In 1993, then-Attorney General Janet Reno instituted a policy that limited the number of people at the DoJ and the White House who could communicate with each other about pending investigations and cases. Only three people at the Justice Department and four people in the White House — the President, the Vice President, the White House Counsel, and the Deputy White House Counsel — were given such authority. The arrangement was intended to restrict political interference in the administration of justice.
The Bush administration, however, significantly expanded the number of potential contacts after taking office:
In 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft authorized at least 42 people at the Department to have initial communications with more than 400 people at the White House regarding pending Department investigations and cases. In 2006, Attorney General Gonzales changed the policy yet again to authorize almost 900 people in the White House to have such communications with at least 42 Department officials.
After raising concerns about the expansion during former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ congressional testimony in the U.S. attorneys scandal, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to limit communications between the White House and the Justice Department, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week.
In an editorial titled “Depoliticizing Justice,” the Washington Post reported last week that the Department is “changing the policy” on its own volition. News of the change came as a surprise to members of the House Judiciary Committee, who wrote a letter to Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler today, asking him to “confirm and explain the policy change”:
While we welcome the news that the Department intends to change this internal policy, we were surprised to learn of it through a newspaper editorial rather than through notice to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. […]
We ask that you confirm and explain the policy change regarding contacts between Department and White House employees, including providing copies of documents reflecting the change and notice of precisely when the change will take effect and how it will be communicated to Department and White House personnel.
Read the full letter here.
Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey has reportedly “assured” Senate Democrats “that he would limit contacts between the Justice Department and the White House to halt any political meddling with ongoing investigations.”