Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush Obstructed Justice Dept. Investigation Into NSA Program

This really doesn't look good for President Bush.

A Watergate-type obstruction by the chief executive is pretty serious stuff.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee (yesterday) that President Bush personally halted an internal Justice Department investigation into whether Gonzales and other senior department officials acted within the law in approving and overseeing the administration's domestic surveillance program.

The investigation, by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, was halted when lawyers who were going to conduct the investigation were denied the security clearances that would have allowed them to view classified documents related to the surveillance program. President Bush made the decision to deny the security clearances for the investigators, Gonzales said in his testimony. (...)

The statement by Gonzales stunned some senior Justice Department officials, who were led to believe that Gonzales himself had made the decision to deny the clearances after consulting with intelligence agencies whose activities would be scrutinized, a senior federal law enforcement official said in an interview. (...)

A senior Justice official said that the refusal to grant the clearances was "unprecedented" and questioned whether the clearances were denied because investigators might find "misconduct by those who were attempting to defeat" the probe from being conducted. The official made the comments without knowing that Bush had made the decision to refuse the clearances. (...)

Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, said in a telephone interview in May that his staff "never, ever was denied a clearance" and that OPR had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of attorneys general. "No attorney general has ever said no to me," Shaheen said. (...)

The investigation was launched in January by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- a small ethics watchdog set up in 1975 after department officials were implicated in the Watergate scandal. OPR investigates "allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice," according to the office's policies and procedures. (...)

"It was the president of the United States himself who prevented this investigation from going forward. In obstructing the investigation, he was protecting the people around him, and not protecting the Constitution," (Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.) said.

Hinchey also asserted that "Congress has been complicit" with the administration in "disregarding the Constitution by not conducting its own inquiry into the matter: This has been a rubber-stamp Congress that has not stood up to the administration and for the separation of powers provisions in the Constitution," he said.

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