Profile: Maurice Hinchey
Maurice Hinchey was a participant or observer in the following events:
Three Democratic congressmen ask Vice President Dick Cheney to testify in the upcoming trial of his former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, even as Libby pled not guilty to five felony counts stemming from the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see November 3, 2005). Henry Waxman (D-CA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and John Conyers (D-MI) send a letter to Cheney asking why Cheney’s office gathered information on Valerie Plame Wilson in 2003, whether Cheney directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s name to reporters, and whether Cheney knew Libby was leaking that information. “[T]here are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement,” they write. The three congressmen also ask more general questions, such as if Cheney knew the administration’s claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger were false even as the White House was using those claims to justify its war with Iraq. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride says that Cheney will cooperate with the Justice Department as the criminal investigation of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald moves forward. Cheney and other White House officials could be called to testify if Libby goes to trial. [Associated Press, 11/3/2005]
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).
President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “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. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006; National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” [Boston Globe, 7/19/2006]
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. 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. [National Journal, 5/29/2006]
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. [National Journal, 7/18/2006]
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. [USA Today, 7/18/2006]
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Maurice Hinchey, John Ashcroft, James Baker, Michael Shaheen, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, National Security Agency, Ronald Reagan, Jack Goldsmith, H. Marshall Jarrett, Elliot Richardson, George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Archibald Cox, Glenn Fine, Arlen Specter, Charles Wolfram, Bruce Fein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tony Snow
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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).
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