Bybee is anticipating legal expenses "well in excess of $500,000" in connection to the torture memos, according to a letter from the U.S. Judicial Conference ethics committee posted on the fund's Web site.
As a top official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Bybee signed a 2002 memo, believed to have been principally drafted by John Yoo, which advised that, during the War on Terror, President Bush could ignore a federal law banning torture. It also concluded that the CIA's proposed interrogation techniques could be considered torture only if they caused "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." In a separate memo, Yoo and Bybee approved water-boarding. Both memos have since been repudiated by DOJ, and condemned as badly flawed by legal scholars across the political spectrum.
Bybee was later appointed by President Bush to a federal judgeship. That means that he could now be subject to impeachment proceedings based on the memos -- a course of action that the New York Times, among others, has expressed support for.
Bybee also remains at risk of criminal prosecution. A special prosecutor was appointed earlier this year to look into whether government officials or CIA personnel broke the law in conceiving, approving, and implementing the torture program.
Bybee's fate could hinge on a long-awaited Justice Department report on the program, which Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday told Congress he expected to see released by the end of the month. A draft of the report, completed during the waning days of the Bush administration, reportedly found that Bybee and Yoo violated their professional obligations as lawyers in drafting and approving the memos.
Newsweek -- which first published the news of the defense fund this morning after a link to appeared on the website of Liz Cheney's new advocacy group, Keep America Safe -- reports that the fund was set up last July.
An email sent by TPMmuckraker to an address on the Bybee Legal Defense Fund site was not immediately returned.