Gonzales Nixed Inquiry into Own Conduct at DOJ, Democrats Furious

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(APN) ATLANTA — At least four Members of US Congress and four US Senators today raised concerns about a breaking report in the National Journal that US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appears to have known he was going to be negatively implicated in a review at the US Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) when he advised President Bush regarding the review. The review was later squashed when Bush denied security clearances OPR needed to investigate Gonzales.

“Your role in advising the President on this question raises… even more serious concerns,” US Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee, wrote in a letter to Gonzales, dated March 15, 2007, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News. A second letter obtained by APN was signed by US Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and John Lewis (D-GA).

US Sens. Durbin (D-IL), Feingold (D-WI), Kennedy (D-MA), and Schumer (D-NY) have requested Gonzales clarify his actions as well, according to a third letter obtained by APN from Kennedy’s Office. “We are deeply troubled by a report in today’s National Journal… In the aftermath of revelations about the dismissals of U.S. Attorneys and the Justice Department’s abuse of Patriot Act authorities, this report raises still more concerns about the independence and integrity of the Justice Department under your leadership.”

“It could be extraordinarily serious. We have the Attorney General here working to block an investigation of himself,” Jeff Lieberson, Communications Director to US Rep. Maurice Hinchey told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.

“Either he [Gonzales] told the President he was going to be the subject of this investigation and asked the President to shut it down, or he didn’t tell the President that and he was… leaving out critical parts of the truth and not living up to his responsibilities as Attorney General,” Hinchey’s spokesman said.

Hinchey’s Office is currently working on a letter to President Bush asking him about what he knew of the OPR investigation and its implications for Gonzales, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

“It would be like… any member of Congress asking the Ethics Committee to cancel an investigation knowing the investigation could incriminate them,” one Congressional staffer told APN on condition of anonymity.

According to Congressional testimony on the National Security Administration (NSA) wiretapping, Bush was the one who personally denied the security clearances to the USDOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) several months ago.

As Atlanta Progressive News reported over a year ago in January 2006, the OPR investigation was going to look into Gonzales’s professional conduct or misconduct related to the NSA wiretapping program. US Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and others had requested the USDOJ internal review as well as reviews at other agencies, when the USDOJ replied that the OPR probe was essentially the best they could do.

Several months later, the OPR notified US Rep. Lofgren that they could not obtain the necessary security clearances to conduct the investigation.

At the time, Lofgren and others were displeased because the OPR investigation would not have looked into the legality of the NSA Wiretapping Program, which is what they had requested.

However, what was unclear at the time was that even the OPR’s review could have been problematic for Gonzales as well.

The OPR was going to look into “his misconduct in how he approved the program, implemented it, and how he may have went outside the line,” Hinchey’s spokesman said.

“These guys who OPR was planning on talking to, were two appointees who vehemently opposed the NSA program and made it clear to the Attorney General and then-White House Counsel that it was not within the confines of the law,” he said.

“Investigators from [OPR] notified senior aides to Gonzales early last year that the first two people they intended to interview were Jack Goldsmith, who had been an assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for Justice’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both men had raised questions about the propriety and legality of various aspects of the eavesdropping program, which was undertaken after September 11 as an anti-terrorism tool,” the National Journal reported.

The National Journal cites “law enforcement officials” as their confidential sources that Gonzales’s aides proceeded to inform him of the planned interviews with Goldsmith and Baker.

What happens next is “really going to depend on the Attorney General response to [the letters] and further investigation. It’s a news article with sources unfamiliar to the Committee with very little on the record for anyone,” the anonymous senior Congressional Staffer told APN.

It was unprecedented for the OPR to have been denied security clearances before, until Bush denied them regarding the wiretap review. However, another anonymous Congressional Staffer told APN in January 2006 that they were concerned the Bush Administration would not provide the clearances.

“The decision by the President to shut down the OPR investigation by denying security clearances to key Department personnel was itself extremely unusual, controversial and, in our view, improper,” Chairman Conyers wrote in his letter today.

Atlanta Progressive News reported in December 2006 that a separate investigation at the USDOJ is underway. This time, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will be looking into how the wiretap program came about and how it had been carried out. It’s unclear why the OIG decided to look into the matter shortly after the 2006 Congressional Elections, several months after the initial request [which had actually been to the OIG and not the OPR] had been denied.

The OIG investigation is underway, a spokesperson told APN, and could not get into details. This separate investigation by the OIG could still pose further problems for Gonzales.

Subsequently, the Bush Administration reversed course on the NSA Wiretapping and decided that indeed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court could resume its jurisdiction over NSA wiretapping. However, civil liberties advocates say special modifications to the FISA Court’s operations, intended to appease Bush, don’t leave much of a victory on the matter.

Gonzales is currently under pressure to resign from several US Senate Democrats and even one Senate Republican–US Sens. Clinton (D-NY), Obama (D-IL), Schumer, and Sununu (R-NH)–for his role in apparently orchestrating the firing of US Attorneys for political purposes.

Gonzales also apologized recently for misleading Congress in regards to that issue.

US Sen. Feingold last year pointed out additional dishonesty by Gonzales in his Senate Confirmation Hearings. Gonzales had said the President would never break the law when Feingold asked whether the President had the authority to order wiretaps.

Several Congressional sources tell Atlanta Progressive News it looks like Gonzales’s career as Attorney General is almost at an end. Gonzales’s Chief of Staff resigned a few days ago. Gonzales was Bush’s private legal counsel before he become Attorney General of the US.

“If these reports are true, they raise serious questions about the attorney general’s willingness to place himself and his actions above the law and above rebuke. In America, no one is above the law. And, no one – certainly not the attorney general – should interfere with an investigation into whether laws have been broken and the Constitution subverted,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a press release.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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