Leslie Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, speaking during a Federalist Society event on the topic of federal criminial law, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, December 8, 2016.
Leslie Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, speaking during a Federalist Society event on the topic of federal criminial law, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, December 8, 2016. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Leslie Caldwell, the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division, has apologized for remarks she gave last week in which she said some U.S. attorney offices lack the oversight and experience to properly vet cases.

In a letter addressed to “friends and colleagues,” Caldwell said she regretted not preparing the remarks she made at a Federalist Society event, in Washington, about the limits of criminal law. The panelist explored several cases in which companies or executives prevailed at trial—including the case in California that prosecutors dropped against FedEx Corp. and prosecutions of a pair executives who were eventually cleared by juries in Texas and Boston.

During the panel discussion, Caldwell said she has seen “a wide wide variation around the country among U.S. attorney’s offices, in both their experience level, the quality of the lawyers that they have, the resources that they have to investigate cases. And there is variation. I acknowledge that there are cases … that get filed that shouldn’t be filed. There are districts where the oversight is not what it should be, the experience level is not what it should be. That does happen. I’m not going to dispute that.”

Caldwell said in her apology letter, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, that her remarks were an overreaction to criticism from white-collar defense lawyers who had “expressed their strong views about specific cases which they believed were mishandled by the department.” Caldwell, a former partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, has led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division since 2014.

She wrote in her letter to prosecutors:

I did not have prepared remarks for the event, and I certainly should have. Instead, I overreacted to the criticisms—which I strongly believe were not an accurate reflection of the Department’s work—by defending the Department in a way that inappropriately suggested that the care taken by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and others in making prosecutorial decisions was less than that taken by attorneys in the Criminal Division. And by making unscripted references to isolated issues in my recent experience, I realize that, rather than defending the reputation of the entire Department, I appeared to be criticizing U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Assistant U.S. Attorneys and other components. I deeply regret my remarks and the genuine hurt that they have caused. As a federal prosecutor for 19 years, including 16 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in two different districts, I know better.

Caldwell concluded the letter by noting that, in separate remarks to new Justice Department attorneys last week, she gave career advice that she was now going to use herself: “Admit your mistakes, deal with the consequences, and learn.”

“I love the Department of Justice and deeply respect our values, the work we do, and the way we do it, both in the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and at Main Justice,” Caldwell wrote. “That by my own remarks I suggested otherwise pains me deeply. I made a mistake, and I am sorry.”

The Federalist Society posted video of the event on the group’s YouTube page. Caldwell’s letter is posted in full below.