Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is charged with investigating attorney misconduct, announced that it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it was denied security clearance.
Previously, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not explain why the security clearances had been denied, saying he did not want to “get into internal discussions.” But in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Gonzales said President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless eavesdropping program. Watch it.
SPECTER: Now when you had the first line of review, Mr. Attorney General, by OPR, why wasn’t OPR given clearance as so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice were given clearance?
GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, you and I had lunch several weeks ago, and we had a discussion about this. And during this lunch, I did inform you that the terrorist surveillance program is a highly-classified program. It’s a very important program for the national security of this country —
SPECTER: Highly-classified, very important, many other lawyers in the Justice Department had clearance. Why not OPR?
GONZALES: And the President of the United States ultimately makes decisions about who ultimately is given access —
SPECTER: Did the President make the decision not to clear OPR?
GONZALES: As with all decisions that are non-operational in terms of who has access to the program, the President of the United States makes the decision because this is such an important program —
SPECTER: I want to move on to another subject. The President makes the decision and that’s that.