A month ago, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before Congress that an internal Justice Department ethics report about the Bush administration torture-memo writers would be on his desk “soon.” Today, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Office of Professional Responsibility report would be completed in a “matter of weeks.”
Next month, will we hear the report — already four years in the making — is due “shortly?”
The delays, Holder testified today, are administrative and not political. The OPR has been revising the report to reflect input from the former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers under investigation for potential professional misconduct, Holder said. Those lawyers are Jay Bybee, Steven Bradbury and John Yoo. The lawyers had missed a May 4 deadline for responding to a draft of the report; apparently the DOJ gave them some extra time.
Holder told the committee:
“They are pretty close to getting to the end of their process. It was lengthened by the responses that they received from the people who are the subject of the investigation. [New OPR head Mary Patrice] Brown indicates that what they wanted to do was look at those responses and there are some changes they are making to the report in light of the contentions that were contained in the responses that they examined.”
“My hope is to share as much of that report as I can with members of Congress and the Public. There are some potentially classified portions of that report that I think we want to work to declassify because it has been expressed by the head of OPR and I agree with her that you can’t get the whole context for this report unless close to the entirety of this report is declassified.”
Meanwhile, 13 human rights organizations released a letter to Holder urging public release of the report. “By releasing the OPR report you will demonstrate the administration’s continuing commitment to transparency and openness,” said the letter, signed by the ACLU and other groups. “You will also help strengthen a proper understanding of the important role played by government lawyers serving the United States.”
At today’s hearing, Holder also defended his efforts to fight terrorism and restore the credibility of the Justice Department. But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the committee, was critical.
Sessions, who noted that he voted for Holder’s confirmation, said the Attorney General bowed to political pressure when he allowed the release of OLC memos that authorized the use of harsh interrogation methods against suspected terrorists. The ranking member said Holder’s moves are weakening efforts to fight terrorism.
“I am disappointed. I am worried,” Sessions said. “I think the American people aren’t happy with the agenda we are seeing.”
The Attorney General said in his opening statement that it is the “highest priority” of the Justice Department to guard Americans from terrorism.
“I am committed to continuing to build our capacity to deter, detect and disrupt terrorist plots and to indentify terrorist cells that would seek to do us harm,” Holder said in his opening statement.
Democrats and Republicans continued to push Holder for his position on several hot button issues including the state secrets privilege and warrantless wiretapping.
The Attorney General would not give his position on the state secrets bills that are going through the House and the Senate. He said the Justice Department will release a proposal on the bills “within days.” Earlier this month, Justice Department turned down an invitation to speak before a House Judiciary subcommittee on the state secrets privilege.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) prodded Holder on the legality of the warrantless wiretaps authorized under the Patriot Act. Holder said the wiretaps performed during the Bush administration were flawed and the DOJ is reviewing its use of the Patriot Act surveillence provision, which will expire at the end of this year without congressional action.
NOTE: This post has been revised since its original publication.