House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler criticized the Justice Department for refusing to testify before the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee this afternoon on the state secrets privilege.
The subcommittee is reviewing the “State Secret Protection Act of 2009″ which would create standards for invoking the states secrets privilege. Conyers lamented that the Justice Department did not send a representative to even say that the Obama administration could not comment on the states secrets privilege at this time.
“It is unacceptable that the department declined to come to this non-secret meeting. What is sad…is that they could not provide a witness,” Conyers said.
Nadler, who chairs the subcommittee, said he hopes this is not a “sign of things to come.”
“While I greatly appreciate the Attorney General’s willingness to work with us, I believe that it should be possible to someone to provide us with the administration’s view, and answer our questions,” Nadler said.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are currently reviewing the protection of state secrets, and are planning to increase access to some sensitive information. The Obama administration, however, is still invoking the states secrets privilege, irking civil liberties groups. Yesterday, San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker had to order DOJ lawyers to prepare filings in the Al-Haramain Islamic charity case involving the government’s warrantless eavesdropping because the DOJ attempted to invoke the state secrets privilege.
Later in the hearing, Conyers asked the subcommittee witnesses to share why they think there is not a representative from the Obama administration testifying before the subcommittee.
Andrew Grossman, senior legal policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, pointed out that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were opposed to the Bush administration’s frequent use of the state secrets privilege when they were senators.
“It might be politically inconvenient for (them) to come and say that,” Grossman said.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.