Despite Harsh Criticism Of Torture Memos Report, Holder Has ‘Utmost Confidence’ In DOJ Ethics Office

February 24, 2010 1:55 p.m.

Attorney General Eric Holder has “the utmost confidence” in the Justice Department’s ethics office, despite the fact that it was recently overruled by a top Holder aide in its most high-profile case in years, a DOJ spokeswoman tells TPMmuckraker.

The 290-page torture memo report produced by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is tasked with investigating misconduct by DOJ attorneys, found that Bush-era attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee had committed professional misconduct in writing the legal opinions that authorized torture.But released with the OPR report Friday was a scathing memo from Associate Deputy AG David Margolis, the top career attorney at the department, that explicitly overruled OPR’s finding of misconduct. Margolis barred OPR from referring the matter to state bar disciplinary authorities where Yoo and Bybee are licensed.

Margolis took a dim view of OPR’s handling of the case, including the office’s initial plan, blocked by then-attorney general Michael Mukasey, to release its report without giving Yoo and Bybee a chance to respond. Margolis accused OPR of shifting its reasoning over the course of two drafts and one final report. His memo thinly veils his scorn toward OPR’s approach to the legal issues at hand.

“OPR’s own analytical framework defines ‘professional misconduct’ such that a finding of misconduct depends on application of a known, unambiguous obligation or standard to the attorney’s conduct,” he wrote. “I am unpersuaded that OPR has identified such a standard.”

Ethics investigators had spent five years on the report.

Considering these criticisms in a case of such consequence, TPMmuckaker asked the Justice Deparment whether Holder plans to review or change how OPR operates.

Responded DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler:

“The attorney general continues to have the utmost confidence in that office and its leadership. As the office that investigates allegations of misconduct by department attorneys, OPR serves a crucial role for the department.”

It’s worth noting here that the final version of the OPR report was issued several months after Holder had replaced the head of the office. On April 8 he named Mary Patrice Brown acting chief of OPR, replacing the office’s longtime director, Marshall Jarrett. The final torture memo report is dated July 29, 2009.

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