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Context of 'February 2, 2006: Justice Department Opens Internal Probe into Warrantless Wiretapping Program'

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The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opens an internal investigation into the department’s role in approving the Bush administration’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. OPR counsel Marshall Jarrett informs Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) of the investigation into the program, initiated after the 9/11 attacks by the National Security Agency and authorized via a secret executive order from President Bush shortly thereafter (see Early 2002). Jarrett writes that the OPR probe will include “whether such activities are permissible under existing law.” Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos says the inquiry will be quite limited: “They will not be making a determination on the lawfulness of the NSA program but rather will determine whether the department lawyers complied with their professional obligations in connection with that program.” Scolinos calls the OPR probe “routine.” Hinchey says he welcomes the probe, which may determine “how President Bush went about creating this Big Brother program.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2006] The OPR inquiry is derailed after the NSA, with Bush’s authorization, refuses to give routine security clearances to OPR lawyers that would allow them to examine the relevant documents (see May 9, 2006).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Tasia Scolinos, H. Marshall Jarrett, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Maurice Hinchey, Office of Professional Responsibility

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Maurice Hinchey.Maurice Hinchey. [Source: Washington Post]A Justice Department investigation into the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program ends before it begins, because the NSA will not grant Justice Department lawyers routine security clearances. The investigation had been opened in February 2006 (see February 2, 2006) when Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) asked the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to investigate the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of US citizens (see After September 11, 2001). Without security clearances, investigators could not examine NSA lawyers’ role in the program. OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett writes in a letter to Hinchey: “We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program. Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation.” Jarrett and his office have made routine requests for security clearances since January, to no avail. The OPR’s investigation would have focused strictly on whether Justice Department lawyers violated ethical rules, and would not have examined the entire NSA program. Hinchey says, “This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they’ve created a culture of fear to try to get away with that.” [Associated Press, 5/11/2006] Hinchey writes to Jarrett, regarding the failure to grant clearances: “We are perplexed and cannot make sense of your denial of these security clearances. Our request did not ask OPR to give us the intricate details of the NSA program; we understand that such a request would not even be within OPR’s jurisdiction. There appear to be no reasonable grounds for blocking this investigation. Not only does your denial of their request for a security clearance not make sense, it is unprecedented.” Hinchey will try, and fail, to get a bill through the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee to force the White House, Justice Department, and Defense Department to turn over to Congress all documents related to the closure of the OPR probe. He will write in a letter to President Bush, “If the NSA program is justified and legal, as you yourself have indicated, then there is no reason to prevent this investigation from continuing.” [US House of Representatives, 7/18/2006] In June 2006, it will be revealed that Bush personally made the decision not to grant the OPR investigators security clearances (see Late April 2006).

Entity Tags: Office of Professional Responsibility, Maurice Hinchey, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush, H. Marshall Jarrett, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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