A new day at DoJ?
In February 2006, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility launched an internal investigation to see if the Department had properly reviewed the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. But President Bush made the unprecedented decision to deny investigators the necessary security clearances, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales meekly assented.
But in a letter to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) today, OPR chief Marshall Jarrett said that "we recently received the necessary security clearances and are now able to proceed with our investigation." You can see the letter here.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey, of course, was only sworn in Friday. It's not immediately clear if he's behind the reversal, but one assumes the two events must be related. Somehow the administration changed its position. (See update below.)
The investigation had been dead since the spring of 2006. The probe aims to determine whether Department officials (including both attorney generals) acted properly in approving and overseeing the program, and there was never a very good excuse for Bush shutting it down. OPR investigators were not seeking new documents from the National Security Agency, but only seeking to review documents already in the Justice Department's possession. Bush, arbitrarily, shut them down.
The move might actually be good news for Steve Bradbury, the acting head of the Department's Office of Legal Counsel; Democrats had been blocking his nomination until the OPR probe was completed, because Bradbury played a key role in reviewing the warrantless wiretapping program. Bradbury's nomination is sure to encounter other problems, of course, even if the OPR investigation clears him. He also authored still-secret memos in 2005 that, according to The New York Times, allowed interrogators to use a variety of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on detainees.
Update: ThinkProgress notes that Mukasey said two weeks ago in a written answer (pdf, see p. 126) to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the investigation that âIt is my understanding this issue has already been decided. I have committed, however, to reviewing the over-all circumstances of this matter.â
There are two ways to read that. One is that Mukasey is referring to Bush's original decision to block the probe. The other is that Mukasey is saying that the decision had already been made to reverse that earlier decision. Which one is right? We're not sure.