A long-awaited Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report released last week found that lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee “had committed professional misconduct in writing legal opinions that authorized torture.” The OPR report revealed that many of Yoo’s emails had vanished:
[W]e were told that most of Yoo’s records had been deleted and were not recoverable. [Former Deputy AAG] Philbin’s email records from July 2002 through August 5, 2002 — the time period in which the Bybee Memo was completed and the Classified Bybee Memo (discussed below) was created — had also been deleted and were reportedly not recoverable.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) “called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of emails” and reported that “he destruction of these emails represents a blatant violation of the Federal Records Act (FRA) and may break criminal laws.”
In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said the deleted records pose “very serious concerns about government transparency and whether the [OPR] had access to all of the information relevant to the inquiries.”
Leahy then asked whether the DOJ has initiated an investigation into the circumstances behind the destruction of the emails. Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary G. Grindler said the DOJ is in the process of trying to establish the facts for why the emails disappeared. Grindler also studiously avoided suggesting that any foul play was behind the disappearance of the emails, stating that there was “nothing nefarious” about the deletions. Leahy then drew a parallel between the Yoo emails and the emails that the Bush White House previously claimed had disappeared:
I recall when millions of emails mysteriously disappeared during the Bush administration, and I had [said] they don’t just disappear. They must be there. And I recall them sending their press secretary Ms. Perino out to say, ‘what is he some kind of IT expert? That’s foolish, they’ve been deleted. They’ve disappeared. We all know they’ve disappeared. Why would anyone suggest otherwise.’ And then we found 22 million emails. [...]
During the firing of the U.S. Attorneys…there were a number of emails by Mr. Karl Rove and others in the White House that were missing. Now, two months ago, we finally find those emails of course after the investigation was over and after the time when the U.S. Attorneys might have been reinstated. I hope we don’t have to wait that long this time.
Newsweek reports that the National Archives is pressing the Justice Department to investigate the “possible unauthorized destruction of e-mail and other records” within the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Grindler told the committee that the DOJ considers the investigation into the torture memos closed.