Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush Blocked Justice Dept. Probe of NSA Spying

I'm not crazy about special prosecutors but when a president blocks an investigation of his administration's activities, we have a problem. We may need to find another Fitzgerald.

Let's begin with Think Progress:
Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is charged with investigating attorney misconduct, announced that it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it was denied security clearance.

Previously, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not explain why the security clearances had been denied, saying he did not want to “get into internal discussions.” But in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Gonzales said President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless eavesdropping program.
George W. Bush is not an easy man to trust. Millions of Americans would feel a great deal better if they knew honest people were out there making sure things are being done the way they're supposed to be done; none of us like corruption, lies, law-breaking or threats to our democracy by politicians who need a little intoxication under the influence of power now and then. The failure to clear things with FISA courts and the failures to let investigators do their jobs and the love that Bush has for secrecy do not put many of us at ease.

Let's look at another story, this one from Justin Rood of TPMMuckraker, on the blocking of the investigation by Bush:
The news today that President Bush acted to block an internal Justice Department probe relating to the NSA's domestic spying operations is both a bigger and more complicated a story than one would think, given the space it will probably be given in tomorrow's papers. In sum, it's an example of how even arcane tools of oversight can be subverted by the Executive Office of the President.

As we know, for at least three years, the NSA's domestic spying efforts have evaded scrutiny by Congress, the secret FISA review process, and the judicial branch.


So the investigators -- whose colleagues and predecessors have reviewed classified material before in the course of their work -- were told they could not receive clearance high enough to allow them to review the documents.

It was a bogus dodge, folks grumbled, and probably came directly from the Attorney General's office -- after all, the files they needed included some of his own.

Which explains why the news today that Bush himself had ordered the review blocked was shocking -- not only to everyday Americans, but to Justice Department officials themselves.

I'm not sure how much cover Bush can continue to expect from his fellow Republicans but clearly a number of Republicans in Congress have their own need for cover from Bush as the Cunningham, Abramoff and other investigations continue. In any case, here's more from Richard B. Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times:
President Bush personally sidetracked an internal Justice Department probe into the warrantless domestic surveillance program earlier this year, even as other Justice officials were assigned to defend the program in court and investigate who may have leaked information about it to the news media, according to administration officials and documents released Tuesday.


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) suggested at the hearing Tuesday that the administration was employing a double standard. Other Justice Department lawyers were given security clearances to defend the NSA program against legal challenges and to pursue government officials suspected of leaking details of the program to the New York Times, which broke the story in December, Specter said.

"With so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice being granted clearance, it raises the obvious question of whether there was some interest on the part of the administration in not having that opinion given," Specter said.

DOJ lawyers who helped create the NSA domestic spying program had the necessary clearances. DOJ lawyers who were asked by Congress to make sure the program was legal were not given the necessary clearances. Cute. And about as ethically wrong as one can get.


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