Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley is calling for the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to release its investigative findings of prosecutors’ conduct in the botched Ted Stevens case.
Grassley made his comments this morning before the committee voted 11-7 to advance legislation allowing television cameras in the Supreme Court during its proceedings. The Iowa Republican, voting yes, said transparency is vital to the court process. He then transitioned into blasting the department’s internal ethics watchdog and what he believes to be its overly secretive work.
This week, U.S. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered the release on March 15 of the outside report compiled by a special investigator he appointed, Henry F. Schuelke III. Grassley lauded Sullivan’s decision to make Schuelke’s report public, and he demanded that the Justice Department follow suit with its OPR report.
“I agree with Judge Sullivan, the public has a right to know what the special investigator found and how pervasive the misconduct was inside the Public Integrity Unit [sic] at the Justice Department,” the senator said. ” The American people need to hear the truth about what happened, not simply trust the Justice Department’s internal Office of Professional Responsibility review process.”
The Justice Department rarely releases OPR investigations, citing privacy issues. But that’s not good enough in this case, Grassley said. Releasing OPR’s report would lessen the public’s “lost faith” in the department, he said.
There is precedent for releasing OPR reports in matters of high public interest.
In 2010, the House Judiciary Committee released the OPR investigation into whether the George W. Bush-era lawyers who wrote the so-called “torture memos” authorizing brutal interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects committed professional misconduct. The watchdog office said they did. But that conclusion was softened by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis in what was perceived by many to be an attempt to protect the institution of the Justice Department from harm.
The OPR, in fact, is viewed by many outsiders - chief among them federal judges - as a way for the department to bury embarrassing allegations, not to root out misconduct. Sullivan cited a lack of distrust of OPR when he appointed his outside investigator in 2009.
Grassley said Attorney General Eric Holder needs to be proactive in opening up the report’s findings.
“Between the misconduct in the Stevens case and the notorious Operation Fast and Furious, where the Justice Department knowingly walked guns to Mexican drug cartels which may have led to the death of a federal agent, it’s easy to see why so many elected officials and the American people have lost faith in the leadership at the Justice Department under the Obama administration,” Grassley said, according to prepared remarks.
Stevens was convicted in 2008 of concealing gifts from an Alaska oil services executive and other friends. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, died in a plane crash in 2010 after losing re-election in 2008 while facing trial. The charges were dismissed and Steven’s conviction vacated after it was discovered that prosecutors had withheld importance evidence from the defense.
Also this week, the Justice Department disclosed that it has paid $1.6 million since 2009 to private lawyers representing the six prosecutors accused of misconduct in the Stevens case.
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