Justice Dept. Allows US Attorney to Testify About DC Crime

May 11, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Justice Dept. Allows US Attorney to Testify About DC Crime
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A change of opinion by the Justice Department this week saved one of its attorneys from a subpoena by a congressional committee investigating crime in Washington, D.C.

The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability is investigating why crime is going up in the nation’s capital while it declines in much of the rest of the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

The committee’s chairman accused U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves of being lax in prosecuting criminals.

Unlike other local jurisdictions in the United States, the Justice Department handles prosecutions in Washington.

The Justice Department responded to a congressional request for Graves to testify at a May 16 hearing by restating its policy that U.S. attorneys are exempt from requirements to justify their prosecutorial decisions to lawmakers.

The committee chairman gave the Justice Department until Thursday to change its mind on the policy or face a subpoena. A statement from the House Oversight and Accountability Committee showed the two sides reached a last-minute agreement.

“I look forward to hearing from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves on how we can reduce crime and ensure justice to make our capital city safe for all Americans,” said Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.

He added, “Radical left-wing policies pushed in our nation’s capital have led to a crime crisis, rampant homelessness and lackluster economic opportunities. It’s clear that Americans living in and visiting Washington, D.C., have suffered from haphazard policies that have emboldened criminals.”

Comer’s criticisms are part of a wider partisan dispute over how much control the District of Columbia Council should have over local issues, including its bid for statehood. The Constitution grants Congress authority to veto local legislation when it conflicts with national policy.

They used the authority last month when House Republicans approved a resolution to overturn a District of Columbia police reform bill. It would have reduced penalties for some crimes and limited police use of force.

Republicans called it too soft on crime. It also contributed to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s decision to call the hearing on local crime next week.

Congress has sought on previous occasions to override D.C. Council proposals on immigration, marijuana and gun control.

The planned May 16 hearing by the House Oversight Committee is supposed to delve into whether poor administration by the city and the Justice Department is contributing to a rise in violent crime.

Overall crime in Washington is up 26% over last year, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. Violent crime is 9% higher while homicides rose by 18% so far this year.

Crime nationwide, particularly violent crime, shot up in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it is dropping.

This month, the data analysis consulting firm AH Datalytics reported a nearly 10% drop in homicides in more than 70 cities this year.

Graves and Bowser gave a glimpse of what they are likely to say at the hearing during a “Public Safety Summit” on Wednesday.

“We have a crisis, there’s no denying it,” Graves said.

As he endured allegations that his lax enforcement might be contributing to crime, he said, “We will charge every felony that we think we can prove.”

He added, “We are never, ever going to charge people if we think it violates our ethical obligations.”

Bowser urged “introspection” among the city and law enforcement agencies to find a solution.

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