Transparent DOJ: An Oxymoron

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In yet another example of hyper-secrecy on the part of the Bush Administration, ProPublica reports on the Department of Justice’s internal ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility.  The office’s role is to investigate misconduct by DOJ attorneys, a role that is greatly compromised by the fact that the investigators are not independent – they answer to the attorney general. Earlier this year, Slate referred to the office as No Bark, No Bite.  ProPublica links to a story from the Los Angeles Times reporting that the OPR has stopped issuing regular public reports.  As the Times writes, since Sept. 11, the office has taken on “some of the weightiest issues in government — examining the role Justice’s lawyers played in formulating administration interrogation policies for suspected terrorists and in endorsing a National Security Agency program of warrantless electronic surveillance.” According to 2006 congressional testimony by then-AG. Alberto Gonzalez, Bush halted the investigation into the domestic spying program by denying the OPR investigators security clearances.

When Bush took office in 2001, DOJ reversed a policy instituted by Janet Reno when she became AG in 1993 of issuing public reports on OPR investigations of department attorneys found to have committed professional misconduct. Reno’s motivation was to bolster confidence in the department.  Fear of public embarrassment would keep federal prosecutors from misusing their powerful positions.  During her nearly eight-year tenure at Justice, Reno “authorized the release of two dozen public summaries of misconduct cases — including one against then-FBI Director William S. Sessions,” The Times reported.

Bush’s DOJ says the reason they changed the policy was because of a lack of resources, as well as wanting to protect the “privacy rights of individual attorneys facing accusations,” according to The Times.

OPR is required to produce annual public reports summarizing its work, but it is over two years behind. In June, the office released its report for 2005.  As The Times reports, many investigations undertaken during the tenure of Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales remain under wraps, and will remain hidden at least until a new administration takes over.

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