Posts Tagged ‘Ted Stevens case’
Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

The attorney for one of the prosecutors who was found to have “willfully concealed” evidence in the botched Sen. Ted Stevens prosecution will be testifying Thursday before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Ken Wainstein, counsel for Alaska Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Bottini, said in a news release that he was called to testify Thursday morning at a hearing titled “The Prosecution of Former Senator Ted Stevens” before the subcomittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

A committee spokeswoman said a full witness list for the hearing will not be released until about 24 hours before the hearing is scheduled to begin. Chuck Rosenberg, attorney for Justice Department Public Integrity Section prosecutor Brenda Morris; and Mark Lynch, attorney for former PIN Section chief William Welch, said Tuesday that they have not been asked to testify at the hearing. The other defense attorneys were not immediately available for comment.

Wainstein, a former District of Columbia U.S. Attorney and head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder after special investigator Henry Schuelke’s report was released in March.

“A good man’s human errors have been miscast as intentional criminal misconduct,” he wrote. Bottini, along with fellow AUSA James Goeke, have argued that Schuelke’s finding of purposeful misconduct is flawed, pointing to larger issues with management as the real source of dysfunction in the case.

Schuelke testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, explaining further his methodology and findings to the committee members.

The special investigator found that Bottini and Goeke were at fault in the public corruption case against the Alaska Republican. The case, which has become a sore eye for the DOJ, blew up after it became clear that exculpatory evidence was not handed over to the defense team during  trial. Holder sought to vacate Stevens’ conviction and the case was thrown out all together.

“We are confident that Congress and the American people will ultimately see that the report is based on nothing more than flawed reasoning, slanted factual analysis and a process that denied our client and his colleague the fundamental right to answer and test the accusations against them,” Wainstein said in the news release.

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Monday, April 16th, 2012

William Welch II, the former head of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section who was nominally in charge of the ill-fated prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens, has told associates he is leaving the DOJ, according to a report from National Public Radio.

His departure was confirmed today by a notice of his withdrawal in the prosecution of former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jeffrey Sterling, accused of leaking classified documents. The filing, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, said Welch is leaving for a “job in the private sector.”

Bill Welch (© 2009 The Republican Company

Welch has described his impending departure as a “retirement,” according to the NPR report. NPR said neither the DOJ nor a representative for Welch would comment.

Welch will leave the DOJ as the fallout from the Stevens case continues. A more than 500-page report by special investigator Henry F. Schuelke III revealed that Welch blamed then-Criminal Division leaders Matt Friedrich and Rita Glavin for much of the debacle. In particular, he said their decision to install his deputy, Brenda Morris, as leader of the prosecution essentially sidelined him, making him a superviser without full supervisory authority.

Having such internal conflict come into public view was undoubtedly painful for all involved. Welch seemed particularly stung by Schuelke’s assertion in a later congressional hearing that he had “abdicated” his responsibility, bringing a sharp rebuttal from Welch attorneys William W. Taylor III and Mark H. Lynch, asserting of Schuelke, “We are confident he misspoke.”

Welch has also come under criticism for his leading role in the Barack Obama administration’s crackdown on leaks to the media from government officials. His prosecution of National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake fell apart, with former Justice Department spokesman Matthew A. Miller later conceding that “the outcome of the case probably shows that it was an ill-considered choice for prosecution, given some of the mitigating factors.”

Welch had been expected to lead the prosecution later this year of Sterling, the former CIA officer who is accused of leaking classified documents to a reporter for The New York Times.  That case, too, has been marked by assertions that DOJ prosecutors have not been entirely forthcoming in turning over material to the defense, as Main Justice reported.

Still the subject of inquiries on Capitol Hill, the Stevens affair produced accusations that some prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence that might have help the defense of the powerful Alaska Republican, who was convicted in 2008 of gifts in the form of home renovations from an Alaska oil-services tycoon.

Stevens lost his seat in the 2008 election. But Attorney General Eric Holder moved for dismissal of the charges after learning of missteps by the prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, who presided over the Stevens trial, angrily denounced several prosecutors, declaring he had never seen such misbehavior in his quarter-century on the bench. (Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010.)

Welch is a Democrat from Massachusetts, where he burnished his reputation going after public corruption. But his aspirations to be United States Attorney in his home state were extinguished by the repercussions of the Stevens affair.

This article has been updated to reflect the filing today of Welch’s notice of withdrawal from the Jeffrey Sterling case.

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Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Senators from both sides of the aisle demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder release the Justice Department’s internal investigation into alleged misconduct by prosecutors in the botched public corruption case against the late Sen. Ted Stevens.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, science and related agencies, Holder also heard questions about the employment status of the Stevens prosecutors and the amount of taxpayer money being used to pay lawyers to defend them.

“[It's] a tragedy that Ted Stevens died before he knew this was a faulty prosecution — that, to me, elevates this to a new height,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said during the hearing.

Holder said the investigation of the prosecutors’ conduct by the department’s internal watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, is complete but not final. Hundreds of pages long, it recommends what, if any, sanctions ought to be leveled, he said.

The Attorney General also said he would like to make most, if not all, of the report publicly available.

A separate investigative report ordered by the Stevens trial judge, Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia, is slated for public release on March 15. One prosecutor has appealed Sullivan’s decision to make the 500-page report public. The report was written by an outside lawyer hired by the court, Henry Schuelke.

Stevens was convicted in federal court in Washington, D.C., in 2008 of failing to disclose gifts on his public financial forms. At the time the longest-serving member of the Senate, the Alaska Republican lost his Senate seat shortly after his conviction. In 2009, Holder asked the court to dismiss the charges after an internal Justice Department investigation found that prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense in violation of Steven’s constitutional rights.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) pressed Holder on the employment status of those prosecutors, asking: “Are you going to make a decision regarding people who have clearly exhibited they do not have integrity to prosecute in this area?” The ranking member said it’s unfortunate “a great friend to many of us and a great patriot for our country” was “very badly abused by the Department of Justice.”

Holder told the subcommittee he believed all of the prosecutors are still working at the department, adding he will make employment decisions once both the OPR and Schuelke reports are released.

Subcomittee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said her colleagues on the panel are “deeply troubled” by the episode. “We must have public integrity and an independent judiciary,” she said. “Regardless of the party in the White House, we must have Justice Department we believe in and the American people believe in.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) added, “As a fellow Alaskan, I was shocked.” She reminded the committee that Stevens lost re-election after he conviction, which helped tip the balance of power in the Senate at the time.

She asked why the Justice Department is paying the legal fees for the prosecutors’ defense, which has cost taxpayers about $1.8 million. Holder explained that as a matter of course, the department either defends its own prosecutors in legal matters or reimburses them for legal fees from outside firms. Because DOJ leadership decided it would be a conflict of interest to represent the prosecutors, it is paying for the fees, which, Holder said, has happened in the past.

Holder said he has reviewed the summary and portions of the Schuelke report, but said he is under orders by the judge not to discuss specifics. ”The findings made there are disturbing,” he said. “I’ve spoken to members of the judiciary to make sure what happened in the case of Senator Stevens is not replicated.”

The prosecutors investigated were William Welch, then the head of the Public Integrity Section; Criminal Division trial attorneys Brenda Morris and Edward P. Sullivan and Alaska Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke. Justice Deparmtent lawyer Nick Marsh, who was also under investigation, committed suicide in 2010.

Recess Appointments

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also grilled Holder on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s controversial January recess appointments. Congressional Republicans say Obama’s appointments, including Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, don’t pass constitutional muster because they were made while the Senate was in pro-forma session.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel approved the appointments, arguing that the Senate was for all intents and purposes in a recess when Obama made the appointments. Holder said he agrees with the findings of the OLC report, but that the matter will likely be decided in the courts.

Alexander argued that if President George W. Bush could respect the Senate’s pro forma sessions during his tenure, then Obama should be held to the same standard. The appointments were a “blatant disregard of checks and balances.”

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Friday, February 3rd, 2012

The botched prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, once one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, has cost the Department of Justice a lot in terms of time, energy and embarrassment. It is also costing the taxpayers, to the tune of some $1.8 million in legal fees so far to defend prosecutors from allegations of wrongdoing.

The DOJ has paid about $1.6 million since 2009 to private lawyers representing six prosecutors accused of misconduct and about $208,000 to defend three prosecutors accused of civil contempt of court, USA Today’s Brad Heath reported, citing data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The consolation to the taxpayers is that the tab would have been much worse, had the cast of big-time white collar defense lawyers been allowed to charge their usual fees. But the Justice Department limits the hourly rate it will pay, and also limited the monthly hours of work it would reimburse to around 200.  To borrow a line from Mitt Romney, the several hundred thousand dollars each firm pulled in on the case is “not very much,” relatively speaking.

That’s not how Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa sees it.

“Unfortunately, it’s the taxpayers who are losing twice,” the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, according to the newspaper. “First, the Justice Department committed serious legal errors and ethical missteps in its taxpayer-funded investigation and trial against Senator Stevens. And second, this is an unseemly high amount of money being spent by the taxpayers to defend what appears to be egregious misconduct.”

DOJ spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said the “government’s long-standing practice has been to provide or make representation available to federal employees for legal proceedings arising out of the performance of their official duties,” according to USA Today.

The Stevens case has had elements of politics, sex and tragic deaths. At its core, it focused on charges that Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, was much too cozy with Alaska oil tycoon Bill Allen, happily accepting gifts and favors from him and failing to disclose them. He was convicted in federal court in 2008 of lying about the gifts and lost his Senate seat that fall.

But that was hardly the end of the episode.  Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to seek dismissal of the case in 2009 when it became known that the prosecution had withheld evidence that might have helped the defense.  Nor, in the opinion of the judge who presided over the Stevens trial, were the prosecutors’ lapses the result of mere carelessness.

The prosecutorial misconduct “permeated the proceedings before this Court… to a degree and extent that this Court had not seen in twenty-five years on the bench,” Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia observed in November. He ordered an investigation by Washington lawyer Henry Schuelke that found that prosecutors had engaged in willful and intentional misconduct, albeit without enough accompanying evidence to bring criminal charges against them (see Main Justice’s report).

The prosecutors who came under scrutiny were William Welch, then head of the Public Integrity Section at Main Justice; and Justice Department trial attorneys Brenda Morris and Edward Sullivan, along with Alaska Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke. Justice Department prosecutor Nick Marsh was also under investigation, but took his own life in 2010.

Bill Welch (© 2009 The Republican Company)

Sullivan has said he intends to release the Schuelke report publicly after the Justice Department responds.

The former senator died in a plane crash in 2010, and weeks later, Marsh committed suicide (see Main Justice’s report).  In the following months, Alaska cases linked to the episode had to be thrown out or failed to gain any traction. They included an investigation of Ben Stevens, former president of the Alaska State Senate and son of Ted Stevens (see Main Justice’s report).

Finally, there is the issue of Bill Allen, the oil tycoon who became the key witness against Ted Stevens.  It seems that Allen has a weakness for young girls, a failing that has been widely publicized because some people, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have questioned why Allen escaped prosecution for transporting a minor prostitute across state lines (see Main Justice’s report).

Amid the continuing fallout from the Stevens case, it is fair to note in passing that the DOJ smoothly handles and prosecutes many, many cases each year. But the Stevens case is surely one the DOJ would like to forget and put behind it, if and when it can.


Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The Department of Justice has pulled the plug on several high-profile investigations of members of Congress recently. But the DOJ sought to dispel any notion that it has become hesitant because of the disastrous episode involving the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska.)

As The New York Times recounted on Monday, the DOJ recently announced that it will not pursue charges against Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) who had been the subject of lengthy investigations. Ensign came under scrutiny for his efforts to help a former campaign aide with whom he had had an affair, while Lewis was in the spotlight for steering government spending to campaign donors.

Other investigations that ended without federal charges being lodged focused on Tom DeLay of Texas, the former House majority leader, and Rep. Don Young of Alaska, both Republicans, and Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.).

But Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, rejected any suggestion that the DOJ has become “gun-shy” because of setbacks. “If a case cannot be brought, it’s because we’ve taken a hard look and made the determination that this case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said, adding that behavior that might be labeled “reprehensible or immoral” is not necessarily criminal.

The DOJ’s biggest setback, and arguably the saddest, involved Stevens. He was convicted on corruption charges in 2008, but the verdict was later thrown out because of misconduct by prosecutors, who themselves came under investigation. One prosecutor committed suicide in September, several weeks after Stevens was killed in a plane crash.

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Bill Welch (© 2009 The Republican Company)

The former chief of the Justice Department’s public corruption unit, who stepped down amid a criminal investigation of his team’s handling of the prosecution of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, emerged Thursday as the lead prosecutor in a high-profile leak case.

William Welch II, who was chief of Public Integrity Section from 2007 to 2009, was named in a Justice Department news release announcing the indictment of Thomas Andrews Drake, a former National Security Agency official accused of providing classified information to a newspaper reporter.

Late last year, Welch returned to Springfield, Mass., where he had been an Assistant U.S. Attorney before joining the Public Integrity section as a deputy chief in 2006. He remains an employee of the Criminal Division with the title “Senior Litigation Counsel” but is based in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. The Drake indictment was filed in Maryland on Wednesday with Welch’s signature.

The department recently selected Jack Smith, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Welch as section chief. Raymond Hulser, who will be Smith’s Principal Deputy, has led the section on an acting basis since Welch’s departure.

Welch’s former Principal Deputy in the Public Integrity Section, Brenda Morris, who is also under investigation, left Washington under similar circumstances. In September, she moved  to U.S. Attorney’s office in Atlanta for personal reasons but is still identified by the department as Senior Litigation Counsel in the Criminal Division.

She, too, recently surfaced in a high-profile public corruption investigation involving Alabama lawmakers and gambling legislation.

The cases are the first public indication that the prosecutors have continued to handle sensitive matters for the department since Stevens’ conviction on false statement charges was thrown out roughly one year ago. A court-appointed prosecutor is investigating whether the six lawyers involved in the prosecution violated criminal contempt statutes by withholding evidence favorable to Stevens’ defense.

The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting a separate investigation. Both probes are near completion, people familiar with them say.

Nicholas Marsh, another member of the Stevens trial team, has also been in the public eye since his transfer out of the Public Integrity Section last summer. As a lawyer in the department’s Office of International Affairs, Marsh was involved in requesting the extradition of Roman Polanski to face sentencing in the U.S. for having sex with a minor three decades ago.

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Friday, April 2nd, 2010

The special prosecutor investigating the Justice Department lawyers involved in the government’s case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R- Alaska) has completed interviews, signaling that the yearlong probe is nearing its conclusion, said two people familiar with the matter.

Henry F. Schuelke III (photo by Susana Raab)

Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s ethics unit is close to finishing a separate investigation of the six lawyers, which will culminate in a report on whether their failure to turn over critical evidence to Stevens’ defense team amounted to professional misconduct, the people said.

Special prosecutor Henry Schuelke III, whose investigation began in April 2009, is expected to make his recommendation first. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over the Stevens trial, tapped Schuelke to determine whether department lawyers sought to conceal the evidence in violation of criminal contempt statutes or whether they withheld it by mistake.

Stevens was convicted of omitting gifts on his Senate financial disclosure forms in October 2008, but Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the case amid cries of foul by Stevens’ defense lawyers and after an internal review revealed irregularities in the way prosecutors shared documents and witness statements.

Schuelke’s investigation has been complex, reaching back years before Stevens was indicted and drawing from thousands of documents. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing, said Schuelke is now evaluating the evidence he’s collected in the past year. It’s unclear when he will make his determination.

Schuelke and investigators in the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted separate interviews with the lawyers, with some sessions lasting 16 hours, but they are sharing information because of the overlap in their investigations, the people said.

Five of the lawyers involved in the Stevens prosecution, including two former supervisors in the department’s prestigious Public Integrity Section, have shifted jobs since the case was thrown out. William Welch II, who was the section chief, is now based in the Springfield branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. Brenda Morris, who was the section’s principal deputy chief, moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta for personal reasons.

Both Welch and Morris are employees of the Criminal Division — they are not Assistant U.S. Attorneys — though it’s unclear whether they continue to handle public corruption work. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment on personnel matters.

Two other members of the trial team, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan, were reassigned from the public integrity unit to the Office of International Affairs. James Goeke, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, transferred from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska to the Yakima branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington. Alaska-based Assistant U.S. attorney Joseph Bottini has continued in his position.

The Stevens case prompted a series of reforms at the department, including a new training regime for prosecutors and the creation of a new position with oversight of department discovery practices.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

A federal judge in Alaska this week rejected another motion for a new trial or dismissal of charges for a former state lawmaker convicted of corruption in a 2007 case that included errors by federal prosecutors.

Pete Kott (AKRepublicans.org)

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick denied a motion filed late last month by a lawyer for former Alaska House Speaker Pete Kott (R) to dismiss the charges against him or have a new trial for him since the lawyer received new documents pertaining to the case. Late last month, his lawyer received handwritten notes made during Justice Department and FBI meetings with the attorney who represented a key government witness who admitted bribing Kott.

Earlier last month, Kott’s lawyer filed another motion for dismissal statement filed last month, citing new DOJ guidelines that encourage prosecutors to list all witness interviews and keep their rough notes. Sedwick also rejected this motion.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick wrote in a court order on Monday that Kott’s most recent motion and the handwritten notes “do not compel a different result” from the earlier rulings.

“Much of Kott’s briefing attacks the previous ruling, but in a manner not squarely based on the new documents,” the judge wrote.

Sheryl McCloud, a lawyer for Kott, told Main Justice she was disappointed with Sedwick’s ruling this week and said she will continue to appeal her client’s conviction.

“We really wanted to get to the bottom of the matter and figure out who stopped the flow of information about the moral, ethical, and perjury problems with their principal witness,” McCloud said.

Prosecutors in Alaska have admitted evidence was inappropriately withheld, but have said their actions didn’t cause any harm.

Kott previously asked Sedwick in November to toss his corruption conviction, arguing the same prosecutors withheld evidence in both his case and the unrelated prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Stevens conviction was later thrown out by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, as well as former Public Integrity Section lawyers Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan prosecuted Kott. A court-appointed counsel and the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility are probing the prosecutors’ handling of evidence in the Stevens case.

The former state lawmaker was released from prison in June, after prosecutors said they did not hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense.

The story was first reported by The Anchorage Daily News.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Monday, February 8th, 2010

The White House and the Justice Department are vetting the head of the Office of Professional Responsibility, Mary Patrice Brown, for a federal judgeship, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Brown, a well-regarded career prosecutor, is expected to secure a nomination to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, assuming she clears her FBI background check and American Bar Association review, the people said.

Brown was tapped to lead the Justice Department’s ethics unit in April, amid a high-profile probe of former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers whose legal opinions paved the way for waterboarding of terrorism detainees. Her office reportedly determined that the lawyers — John Yoo, now a law professor, and Jay Bybee, now a federal judge — violated professional standards in blessing some of the Bush administration’s most controversial national security policies.

The Justice Department official who oversees OPR in the Deputy Attorney General’s office, David Margolis, softened the report to say the lawyers were guilty of “poor judgment” but not of professional misconduct — a finding that would have warranted referrals to state bar associations, Newsweek reported.

The issue would almost certainly be raised in Brown’s Senate confirmation hearings. Many Republicans strongly oppose disciplining Yoo or Bybee for their work during the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, while many Democrats have called for them to account for approving an interrogation method that Attorney General Eric Holder and others have equated with torture.

Brown, just the third OPR counsel since the office was created in 1975, came from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, where she was chief of the Criminal Division. The Justice Department announced the move the day after a federal judge criticized OPR for dragging its feet in an investigation of possible misconduct in the botched prosecution of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. The events were unrelated.

The judge, Emmet Sullivan, took the extraordinary step of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate government lawyers for possible criminal contempt. Sullivan’s actions also set in motion a series of reforms designed to ensure that prosecutors meet their obligations to turn over evidence to defendants. (Brown would be Sullivan’s colleague on D.C.’s federal trial court, among the most prestigious in the country.)

The OPR investigations of the Stevens prosecutors and of the former OLC lawyers elevated the profile of Brown’s office. Rarely do OPR findings see the light of day, much less become the subject of congressional inquiries, as the OLC probe has. As a result, the office has received more complaints, Brown has said.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sent Brown’s name to the White House, along with eight others, for three vacancies on the court. (The names were generated by Norton’s nominating commission, the same group that interviewed candidates for U.S. Attorney in the District.) The White House appears to have pared the list down to three names, and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy has been assisting with the vetting since December, the people said.

The lawyers being considered for the other two vacancies are Venable LLP partner Robert Wilkins, former special litigation chief for the D.C. Public Defender Service, and D.C. Superior Judge James “Jeb” Boasberg, who was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in District before his confirmation in 2002, the people said.

Brown could not be reached for comment. Wilkins and Boasberg declined to comment.

The court has a fourth vacancy as of late December, when U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman took senior status. It’s unclear whether the White House will select a nominee from Norton’s list, ask for more names or conduct its own search.

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Obama administration wants to expand the staff of the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Justice Department’s internal disciplinarians, to handle an “increasing number of special investigations.”

The president’s budget proposal asks for $488,000 to add five positions, including three attorneys, and notes that “several investigations were opened at the request of congressional oversight committees or members of Congress.”

In a well-publicized example, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf, asked Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine to probe the circumstances surrounding dismissal of voter intimidation charges against members of the New Black Panther Party. Fine referred the case to OPR. That inquiry is ongoing.

OPR currently has 29 positions, including 21 attorneys. The office, which is led by veteran prosecutor Mary Patrice Brown, saw an increase in the pace of complaints filed in 2009. As of May, the office had received nearly 700 complaints, while about 800 complaints were filed in all of 2008.

In a meeting with representatives of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Brown attributed the uptick to OPR’s increased visibility. She cited its investigations of high-profile matters, such as the conduct of prosecutors in the botched Ted Stevens trial and of the Bush administration Office of Legal Counsel lawyers whose legal opinions paved the way for waterboarding.

The OPR report on the Office of Legal Counsel is going through declassification now, in preparation for public release. It was more than four years in the making.

Newsweek reported last week that OPR originally found the former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers had failed to to meet professional standards in crafting a 2002 memo blessing the use of harsh interrogation techniques. Those lawyers were Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor.

But Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who conducted the final review, softened the report to say they showed “poor judgement,” Newsweek said.