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FRANK GAFFNEY:

Welcome to Secure Freedom Radio. This is Frank Gaffney, your host and guide for what I think of as an intelligence briefing on the war for the free world. One of the places where there seems to be a rather remarkable dearth of intelligence at the moment is with respect to an initiative that has bipartisan support, we’re told, on Capitol Hill. It goes under the rubric generally of criminal justice reform. And hard as it is to believe at a moment when we’re seeing a lot of evidence of, well, criminal activity, for one thing, and recidivism among former criminals, some of whom had been released rather lately, we’re in need desperately of a dose of real intelligence. And I’m very pleased to say we have with us Steve Cook, the president of the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys to bring just such real intelligence to bear. He is, these days, in his day job – and we’re not speaking to him in his day job, let me make clear, an actual assistant secretary, excuse me, assistant US attorney in Tennessee. But we’re talking with him in his role as a representative of all of the assistant US attorneys and he has been an exemplar, a paragon, of clarity about the inadvisability of this criminal justice reform business. Steve Cook, it’s so good to have you back. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

STEVE COOK:

Thank you, sir, for having me.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

I’d like to get sort of an update from you. When we last talked, this bill seemed to be more imminent than I take it, it is at the moment, but give us a sense of where you think things stand legislatively as well as substantively.

STEVE COOK:

Well, legislatively, in terms of the momentum, I think that the momentum has slowed and some think it has completely stopped. Of course, our mission is facing some serious issues that cast a light on these reforms and probably put them in the bad light they should be in. That said, there are still plenty of people pushing them through, trying to push them through the Senate and through the House.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

And among them have been leaders in, certainly, the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, and I think on the House – excuse me, on the Senate side as well, Steve Cook. To the extent that there may be some second thoughts taking hold, give us a few of the arguments that you have been making on behalf of your association and, really, I think the law enforcement community more generally, that is perhaps giving rise to some second thoughts.

STEVE COOK:

Well, thanks for giving me that opportunity because the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act we think is an absolute potential disaster for the American people. And the reason for that is very simple. For, beginning in the mid-80s, when we had violent crimes spiralling upwards, congress gave us, that is federal law enforcement community and the prosecutors some very important tools to dismantle and disrupt large drug – large and often violent drug trafficking organisations and gangs. And we used those tools. We took the most – the worst of the worst off the streets. We put them in federal prisons. And they got some very substantial sentences. That was important, so important that beginning in 1991, the trend of upward, upward trend of violent crime reversed. And by 2014, we had cut violent crime in half. Violent crime rates as well as non-violent crime rates had been cut in half. And so we had a very successful program that was being mirrored in state systems. Meanwhile, there were some sentencing reforms that were being pushed in state systems. And most probably, the best example is California. California has been a disaster. They’ve had sentencing reform that released some twenty-five percent of their prison population. And their crime rate has gone up. Meanwhile, there have been reforms in the federal system that have resulted in multiple rounds of early releases for some of these very significant drug traffickers. Over fifty thousand have been eligible for early release. Tens of thousands have been released and we continue to release them. And those are among the worst. So that’s had a significant impact. At the same time, there’s a clemency program that’s being pressed by the president. Again, tens of thousands of people seem to be eligible for it. It’s got some significant problems as we see it, because it strayed from what the initial announcement said that they were going to focus on. And so on the federal side, these proposed sentencing reforms that are pending would compound the problems and they would basically gut some of the tools we’ve used daily to undermine drug trafficking and gangs.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Steve Cook is our guest, the president of the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys. And Steve, again, this is happening against the backdrop of a growing alarm, I think, among the American people. They’re seeing police officers ambushed and murdered. They’re seeing others persecuted, I think it’s fair to say. They’re also seeing, I know in Dallas and in other parts of this country, police officers simply bailing out, saying they don’t want to serve any further. To the extent that these kinds of trends are now present, is there any doubt in your mind that what we will find, if we proceed down this road of so-called criminal justice reform, is a vastly greater problem than the one we have. And in particular, I’m interested in sort of your – the concern you’ve expressed with me before that among the recidivists we’re likely to get on the streets again are likely to be jihadists, converted to that status in prison.

STEVE COOK:

Well, I think we’d be naïve not to think that the violent criminals that we have in prison would not be a target group for anybody who wants to visit violence on the American people. It’s an obvious recruitment location. They’ve proven violence, they’ve proven oftentimes mental instability, and it’s a natural breeding ground for discontent.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Steve Cook, as you are working this problem, as you’re traveling around the country, just in closing, when you talk to, you know, legislators, when you talk to the media, when you talk to, well, others in the law enforcement community, when you talk to regular citizens, do you sense that at this point there is now a feeling that we best stop taking the sorts of risks that are evident in what you’ve just described?

STEVE COOK:

Well, there are at least three other things, and I’ll be quick, but you’ve alluded to one of them and that is this unrelenting attack on law enforcement. What – who wouldn’t be demoralised in their job if what they saw constantly on the news was this distorted impression of the, you know, work – the great work that they do in all of our communities? At the same time we have immigration policies that are leading immigrants inside the United States instead of an aggressive removal. And one thing that most people may not know and that is, over the last five years, the United States Department of Justice has – and remember, we’ve focused on the worst of the worst in the violent and drug trafficking arenas, as well as other crime areas, we’ve had a twenty-five percent reduction in federal prosecutions. And when you reign all that back in and when you do all of these other things at the same time, it’s going to have the impact that you would expect. You know, Washington, DC had a fifty-three percent increase in murders. National, eighty-three percent increase in murders in 2015. And I could go on. Nationally, we have a 6.2 percent increase in murders. The American people should be shocked by that.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

I think they are shocked by it. And I think it’s coming home to them in a very literal and personal way. Steve Cook, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your leadership in the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys, your courage in speaking out against all of these very, very serious challenges to the public safety and, you know, the order of our society. I hope you will keep it up, stay well, and come back to us again very soon in the meantime. Again, thank you for your leadership, keep it up. Next up, we’ll be talking with Fred Fleitz, my colleague at the Center for Security Policy, about the Obama bomb deal. That and more, straight ahead.

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