Below is a timeline of significant events in the more than five-year gestation of the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility report on the professional conduct of former Office of Legal Counsel officials Jay Bybee and John Yoo.
This timeline is based on a memo to Attorney General Eric Holder by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, explaining his decision to downgrade OPR’s finding of misconduct to a finding of poor judgment. Margolis is a career DOJ official who has held his current position for 17 years.
Sept. 11, 2001: Al-Qaeda operatives hijack four passenger jets and crash them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and — after a struggle with passengers – in a field in Pennsylvania.
Sept. 20, 2001: President George W. Bush addresses a joint session of Congress and declares a “war on terror.” The U.S. prepares to attack Al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan.
March 14, 2003: OLC issues another interrogation memo to the Defense Department. This one is signed by then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo.
Oct. 25, 2004: OPR launches a full investigation of circumstances surrounding the drafting of the memos.
Dec. 23, 2008: OPR provides Attorney General Michael Mukasey with 191-page draft report, advising of its intent to release a redacted, unclassified version of the report to the public on Jan. 12, 2009. An accompanying memorandum invites Mukasey to conduct a “sensitivity” review, requesting response by Jan. 2, 2009. OPR also requests a meeting with Mukasey to discuss any concerns he may have with the report. The draft makes no mention of soliciting responses from the subjects or their lawyers.
Dec. 31, 2008: Mukasey, Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip and their staffs meet with OPR attorneys. They are harshly critical of the report. After the meeting, OPR advises Mukasey that, given his and Filip’s concerns, issues raised by OLC in a Jan. 7, 2009 letter to OPR, and time needed for the subjects and their lawyers to respond to the report, the report will not be finalized by the end of the Bush administration.
Jan. 19, 2009: Mukasey and Filip sent a letter to OPR memorializing substantive and procedural concerns about the draft report. The proposed time for their review was “unrealistically and, with respect, unacceptably short,” they say. They also voice “strong disagreement and surprise that the Draft Report proceeds seemingly without any consideration of the context in which the OLC opinions were prepared and, equally important, the time available to prepare them.”
Sometime in March, 2009: OPR submits its second draft to Yoo and Bybee, inviting them to respond within 60 days. Accompanying the draft were transcripts of OPR interviews with Yoo and Bybee but not documents OPR obtained or generated during its investigation.
April 8, 2009: Attorney General Eric Holder announces the appointment of Mary Patrice Brown, a federal prosecutor in Washington, to head OPR. She replaces H. Marshall Jarrett, who is reassigned to the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. The move is unrelated to the OPR report.
May 4, 2009: Yoo and Bybee respond to the second draft, criticizing OPR for failing to apply its traditional analytical framework. OPR ignored standards requiring that it show that Yoo and Bybee knowingly engaged in wrongdoing, Yoo writes. Bybee agrees: “OPR is not supposed to make up new standards to govern particular cases.”
May 20, 2009: Holder tells reporters he expects the final report to be on his desk “soon.”
June 17, 2009: Holder tells the Senate Judiciary Committee the OPR report will be completed in a “matter of weeks.
July 29, 2009: OPR issues its final report. It concludes that Yoo intentionally violated his “duty to exercise independent legal judgement and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice” with respect to five documents: the unclassified Bybee memo, the classified Bybee memo, the Yoo memo, a July 13, 2009 letter from Yoo to Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, and an Aug. 1, 2002 letter from Yoo to then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. The report finds that Bybee recklessly disregarded that same duty by signing and issuing the unclassified Bybee memo and the classified Bybee memo.
Nov. 18, 2009: Holder tells the Senate Judiciary Committee the report is complete and “should be ready by the end of the month.”
Jan. 5, 2010: Margolis sends a memo to Holder, explaining his decision to downgrade OPR’s finding of misconduct to a finding of poor judgment.