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Thursday, May 25, 2006, 5:08 pm

Gonzales Personally Interfering With Justice Department Investigation of NSA Wiretapping Legality?

By Brian Zick

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Shane Harris and Murray Waas (again) report that the materials and documents sought by investigators for the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, whose security clearances were denied thus foreclosing their inquiry, are information and documents relating to the National Security Agency's surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department's possession, two senior government officials said in interviews.
The current Justice Department inspector general has determined that OPR is the office responsible for investigating the professional actions of the attorney general involving the NSA program.

The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking about the NSA's eavesdropping program was what had already been given to Ashcroft, Gonzales and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials said. And, by nature, OPR's request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn't extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies, the two officials said.
Gonzales said that Justice attorneys examined and approved the surveillance, and that decisions on whether to share information about it are weighed in light of national security needs. "We don't want to be talking so much about the program that we compromise [its] effectiveness," the attorney general said at a public appearance last week.
[OPR's lead counsel, H. Marshall] Jarrett didn't say which official or agency denied the requests for clearances. Asked whether the NSA had done so, agency spokesman Donny Weber pointed to Gonzales's public comments last week. Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, when asked which agency or person denied the security clearances to OPR investigators, also said Gonzales's comments of last week addressed that question.
Asked which agency or official decided not to grant the OPR investigators security clearances, Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "We aren't commenting on internal decisions." He noted that the attorney general had addressed the topic in his public comments. If the decision to deny the clearances was in fact an "internal decision" of the Justice Department, that raises the prospect that Gonzales himself or another senior Justice official denied the clearances, and hence quashed the OPR investigation.
In an interview, [Rep. Maurice] Hinchey argued that Gonzales and other Bush administration officials have an obligation to cooperate in every manner possible with any OPR investigation: "The Justice Department has an Office of Professional Responsibility to assure that the highest ethical standards are met by those who enforce our laws. That's why we have Jarrett.... The idea that they are not going to give him the necessary security clearances to do his job and the proper oversight is absurd."

Regarding Gonzales, Hinchey [who had asked the OPR to determine whether NSA had complied with existing law] said: "The attorney general has said that he does not have to allow an investigation to go forward because he has talked about the legal underpinnings of the NSA program. He has not done that because it does not have any. It is devoid of any legal underpinnings."

via Steve Soto at The Left Coaster
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