Wash. Post quoted Gonzales defending termination of NSA spying investigation; ignored critics

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

The Washington Post reported Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's defense of the Justice Department's decision to terminate an inquiry into whether department lawyers acted properly in authorizing the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless domestic surveillance program without providing any indication of the nature or degree of criticism greeting that decision.

In a May 18 article, Washington Post staff writers Dafna Linzer and Charles Babington reported Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's defense of the Justice Department's decision to terminate an Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) inquiry into whether department lawyers acted properly in authorizing the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless domestic surveillance program without providing any indication of the nature or degree of criticism greeting that decision.

House Democrats, led by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), requested the investigation in January in order to determine, among other things, who initially authorized the warrantless program and if the Bush administration launched the program before getting Justice Department approval. But in a May 10 fax sent to Hinchey, OPR director and chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett announced that the internal Justice Department inquiry had been closed, saying that "we have been unable to make meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program."

Linzer and Babington focused their May 18 Post article on the Senate confirmation hearings of Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, President Bush's nominee to head the CIA. Noting that Hayden defended the warrantless spy program as legal, Linzer and Babington then noted the terminated OPR investigation, reporting Gonzales's defense of that decision but not mentioning the criticism that decision has received from Democrats or former Justice Department officials:

An internal Justice Department investigation tried to determine whether lawyers who authorized the program may have acted improperly. But Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested yesterday that secrecy concerns shut down the inquiry. The department's Office of Professional Responsibility notified lawmakers last week that it was forced to end its investigation because the office was denied security clearances to access information on the NSA program. Gonzales defended that decision yesterday and suggested that the probe was unnecessary because Justice issued a legal analysis supporting the effort.

"It's a very important program to the United States, and so certain decisions are made in terms of ... how much information should be shared throughout the federal government," Gonzales told reporters at a news conference. "We don't want to be talking so much about the program that we compromise the effectiveness." Gonzales declined to discuss who denied security clearances to OPR investigators or whether he was consulted on the issue.

The article reported that Gonzales "defended th[e] decision" to terminate the investigation but did not note the great criticism the decision has generated. According to the Associated Press, Hinchey asserted that "[t]his administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they've created a culture of fear to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand up to them."

Moreover, on the May 12 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, former OPR director Michael Shaheen noted that "[n]o one in OPR for the 24 years I was there was denied a necessary clearance, ever, and much less one that brought to a conclusion an investigation." On the same program, Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official under President Reagan, said of the decision:

FEIN: This is rather bizarre, with the one branch of the executive saying the other branch can't investigate it. Well, they're all beholden to the President of the United States. He decides what is to be unearthed, what is to be disclosed, and it's clear that Mr. Bush is deciding he won't permit any investigation as to the legal advice he received about the warrantless surveillance program of the NSA.

Further, Larry Sims, a former Justice Department official under Presidents Carter and Reagan, added:

SIMS: To say that an agency can block an investigation by refusing to give federal investigators here at the Office of Professional Responsibility the clearances they need is just astounding.

[...]

Would the head of NSA defy the attorney general? It's silly. The whole idea is silly. So what you have to do is you have to look at this as an order that came from the attorney general, with or without the actual knowledge of the president. This is an attorney general-slash-president issue.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.