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In speech, Holder sets priorities, trajectory for Justice Department

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • Holder pledges to concentrate on crime, terrorism and protecting Americans
  • His address was given to more than 100,000 Justice employees nationwide
  • He did not mention Guantanamo Bay or all but certain budget cuts

Washington (CNN) -- Seeking to put the stinging defeat of Guantanamo and 9/11 trial venues behind him, Attorney General Eric Holder Monday set a new, less controversial course for the Justice Department for the rest of his term.

Holder said the "four essential priorities" in the days ahead will be protecting Americans from terrorism at home and abroad, fighting violent crime, combating financial fraud, and protecting "the most vulnerable members of our society."

Holder's address was given to more than 100,000 Justice employees nationwide through a closed-circuit telecast.

Aides said the speech was scheduled to give the attorney general a chance to look ahead in the aftermath of bruising Republican criticism on a range of issues. In particular, Holder wants to move past his very public surrender to congressional critics who had long refused to back his plan for civilian trials in New York for the alleged September 11, 2001, conspirators.

Yet, in his promise to combat terrorism, Holder could not resist what seemed to be a defense of his lost fight over military commissions.

"Let me be very clear about this: we will continue to rely on our most powerful and most proven tool in bringing terrorists to justice -- our federal court system," Holder declared.

The speech made no direct mention of Guantanamo or the detainees held there.

The attorney general also avoided discussing the all but certain budget cuts which will hit many Justice Department offices and programs in the coming year.

The address in the Great Hall of the Main Justice Building was warmly received by more than 200 employees, many of whom came within hours of being furloughed earlier this month when a last-minute deal prevented a government shutdown.