The Dick Thornburgh Papers

The collection

Assistant Attorney General, Criminal division (1975-1977)

Extent: 11 linear feet

“I received a March 1975 phone call at home from Attorney General Levi [who] asked if I wished to be considered for the post of assistant attorney general in Washington. ... While it was hard to give up a post in my hometown of Pittsburgh, I simply could not pass up the challenging opportunity to assist in the rehabilitation of the Justice Department in the post-Watergate era” (Evidence draft, p. 210). Thornburgh was sworn in as assistant attorney general on July 8, 1975, to head the Criminal Division. The Criminal Division was made up of sections that dealt with organized crime and racketeering, fraud, government regulation, narcotics, internal security, management and labor, and general crimes. Jim Seif and Jay Waldman, two men who worked in Thornburgh’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and continued later to work with Thornburgh during his governorship, joined Thornburgh as special assistants.

In addition to personnel changes, the structure of the division was modified as well to reflect new priorities. “To support a stepped-up effort against public corruption, we ... created a Public Integrity Section that could take charge of corruption cases that a U.S. attorney was unable or unwilling to handle. I considered the creation of this section the most important contribution of my tenure at the Criminal Division” (Evidence, p. 64).

An ongoing project to which Thornburgh attached himself was the recodification of federal criminal law, but the “central task of comprehensive reform remains unfinished today” (Evidence, p. 67). Thornburgh’s keen interest in promoting reform continues into his “Ongoing Career,” and is evidenced in the online speeches and op-eds.

“In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the presidential election, and my tenure at the department drew to a close” (Evidence, p. 71). When Carter was inaugurated Thornburgh was “the most senior remaining member of Attorney General Levi’s team to remain in office. Because of a delay in the confirmation of President Carter’s choice for attorney general, Griffin Bell, I became the acting attorney general at 12 noon on January 20, 1977 and remained in that position for the next five days....I reverted back to acting deputy attorney general when Judge Bell arrived” (Evidence draft, p. 254).

Thornburgh resigned as assistant attorney general effective March 12, 1977, and in an accompanying letter to Bell, President Carter’s new attorney general, he identified areas of concern for the department as “white collar crime, official corruption, organized crime, and trafficking in narcotics and dangerous drugs” (Evidence draft, p. 255), tasks beyond the reach of state and local law enforcement agencies. In closing the letter he states: “There is not, and never has been, anything necessarily inconsistent between a forceful and aggressive law enforcement effort and the absolute observance of the civil rights and civil liberties of all of our citizens. ... So, in the final analysis, it is an important part of our professional responsibilities to ensure that such is not the case” (Evidence draft, p. 257).

“Long before I left Washington in March of 1977 to return to Pittsburgh, there had been widespread speculation that I would seek the Pennsylvania governor’s office in the following year’s election. This had been fueled, in part, by Governor Shapp’s charges of ‘political’ prosecutions against his administration. But the most potent argument for my prospective candidacy derived from public concern about corruption and mismanagement in state government and the widely acknowledged need to ‘clean up Harrisburg’” (Evidence draft, p. 259).

The files here are arranged in thirteen sections: "Speeches"; "News Releases"; "Events"; "Correspondence"; "Jim Seif Files"; "AAG Thornburgh's Files"; "Memoranda"; "Articles and Newspaper Clippings"; "Calendars and Telephone Logs"; "Court Cases"; "DOJ Files"; "Strike Forces"; and "Issue References".


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