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.