Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to Employees at the Department of Justice.

January 30, 1969

Mr. Attorney General, ladies and gentlemen:

I think of all the departments of Government that I have visited, and will be visiting in these next 2 to 3 weeks, I will feel more at home here.

I don't mean because the Bureau of Narcotics is here or the Bureau of Prisons or anything of that sort. But when I look over this room and I see the senior people in the Department of Justice, when I know your backgrounds, when I realize that we come basically from the same backgrounds, I realize that but for the accident of politics I might be here and you might be where I am.

I, too, want you to know that in saying that, I speak with very great appreciation of the activities of your new Attorney General. I was trying to check on his political credentials before I came over here today and I think you might be interested in some of his background.

I find that there is a story to the effect, which he has not denied, that he was one of the commanding officers for John F. Kennedy in the Pacific. Before he became my campaign manager or director during the campaign of 1968, he was Counsel to Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. I say Counsel to Governor Rockefeller. He was Counsel to the State of New York in its activities in the field of bonds.

I remember in that respect a conversation I had with the Governor, at which your new Attorney General was present, shortly after I had won the nomination of the Republican Party in Miami Beach and the Governor came in to congratulate me. Mr. Mitchell was there. I started to introduce the two and Governor Rockefeller very graciously said, "I know John Mitchell. You know, he is my lawyer. Or, I should say, he was my lawyer."

But in any event, with that common background, I do want you to know that I am aware of the tremendous responsibility the men and women in this room have. All of you know that for these past few years, and particularly over the past few months, there has been an increasing interest in the United States in the activities in which you have primary responsibility.

I want to make it very clear when we talk about the fields in which you are engaged--the fields of law enforcement, antitrust, civil rights, all of these areas-that we are not talking in any partisan sense. The interest of all Americans is involved here.

There has never been a time in this Nation's history when more Americans were more concerned about the enforcement of law and reestablishing not only respect for laws but laws that deserve respect, and that means how the laws are enforced will bring that respect.

So a great deal rides on the competence of the men and women in this room--the leadership that you provide.

I simply want you to know that I have great confidence in you. I realize that only a few of you, those who sit in these front rows, are here because of the appointments that I have made, appointments that I have made after consultation with the Attorney General and with his, of course, strong approval.

I know that most of you in this room are people who have dedicated your adult lives to the service of government. I want all of you to know who are not political appointees, those of you who are in the career service, that I have great respect for those who have been in the career service. I know what a tremendous contribution you have made and what a tremendous contribution you are going to make.

No one can be a successful Attorney General, no one can be a successful Assistant Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General unless he has the backing and the enthusiastic support of those in his Department.

We need your support. We want it and we hope to be worthy of it.

I can simply say, as I look back over the years that I was in the Congress-- going back 22 years ago, 4 years in the House, 2 years in the Senate, and 8 years as Vice President--I have had many opportunities to know the men and women in the Department of Justice. I always had the very highest respect for their caliber. And I learned then that when you look over the entire Government, you would not be able to name any department where, in terms of dedication, in terms of sacrifice for the public interest, there was a higher standard than here. Let me be quite precise in that respect.

I am sure all of you are aware of the fact that there was considerable publicity at the time the Attorney General took this assignment that he had to come down in pay as a result.

I know, too, that there is a reverse side of that coin. I know that in this room are many people who, when they had the choice of whether to go into private practice-with all of the opportunities to go up financially--you chose Government service. You chose it not because the financial remuneration was low. But you chose it because the opportunity for service was high. I therefore respect you for what you have done.

I know that over the years you sometimes may have had doubts as to whether that decision was the right one, particularly when those years came when you were old enough, as some of you are, to have to meet the responsibilities of sending children to college and all the other activities in maintaining a balanced family budget.

But I can assure you that speaking as one who has been at the highest level-and I can say the highest level in the company of my former law partner [Attorney General Mitchell]--at the highest level of remuneration in the private practice of the law, and one who has also served in the Congress of the United States, in the Senate of the United States, as Vice President and, years ago, I should also point this out, started out as a P-3--I think that was the classification in the old Office of Price Administration before World War II--I can tell you that if I had the choice to make today, the choice between going into Government service, and doing what you are doing in this Department, and going into one of the great law firms with a much higher remuneration, I would do what you are doing here.

You are going to look back on your lives, I think, later on, and you can be proud that when you had that choice to make you chose to make this contribution to public service.

Now, understand, I am not running down those who are in the private sector. After all, without them we would not have the tax monies with which to make that pay increase which we all want. But what I am suggesting here is this: that we in this country sometimes are not too much aware, enough aware, of how much of a financial sacrifice people may make to go into Government service. We are not, therefore, appreciative enough of how much they have contributed.

It has become rather fashionable to run down the career servant; and sometimes, I must say, the career servant, like the political appointee, needs a little jacking up. And there will be some of that in this next administration, I can assure you. With all that, I simply want to conclude with this final thought.

As the new President of the United States, working with the new Attorney General, I want you to know that we both understand your problems. We both recognize that there will be virtually no index of the success of this administration that will be more closely watched than what happens in the conduct of the enforcement of the law by the Department of Justice.

In this room is the brain power. In this room is the dedication. In this room is the ability that will determine whether we succeed or fail in that great venture. We will provide the leadership. I am confident as I stand here that you will provide, also, that strong support that we need so that we can look back on these years and be proud of what we have accomplished, not only for our profession of the law, but be proud of what we have accomplished for this Nation.

Note: The President spoke at 4:03 p.m. in the Great Hall at the Department of Justice.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to Employees at the Department of Justice. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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