The WSJ reports and editorializes on a significant story you may not have heard about thanks to it (conveniently) being dumped on the news media on a Friday night:
So after five years of investigation, partisan accusations and unethical media leaks, the Justice Department’s senior ethicist has concluded that Bush Administration lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed no professional misconduct. The issue now is whether the protégés of Attorney General Eric Holder who led this exercise at Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) should themselves be in the dock.
That’s our reading of the analysis by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, a career official who reviewed both the Bush-era legal memos on interrogating terror suspects and their review by the lawyers at OPR. Remarkably, his report is far more scathing about OPR than it is about Messrs. Yoo and Bybee, who he says made legal errors but did so in good faith, out of honest legal analysis, and in the ethical service of their clients in the executive branch at a time of war.
Mr. Margolis’s review overrules both a draft OPR report whose contents were leaked to the media last year and a final OPR report that was released along with the Margolis review late Friday. Those OPR reports recommended disciplinary action and potential disbarment for Messrs. Bybee and Yoo for their advice while working in the Office of Legal Counsel in the frantic months after September 11. The leaks were themselves an unethical attempt to smear the reputations of the lawyers while they were under a gag order and unable to reply.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers nonetheless leapt to praise Friday’s release of earlier drafts, touting them as evidence that the OLC memos were “legally flawed and fundamentally unsound.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy promptly called for Judge Bybee to resign from the federal bench. Both Democrats have scheduled more grandstanding, er, hearings, for the coming days.
Justice is defending its pre-weekend document dump by saying that it had to release the entire record. But notably, Justice failed to release a 14-page January 19, 2009 letter from then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Deputy AG Mark Filip that eviscerated the first OPR draft. The Mukasey-Filip memo has since appeared on media Web sites, and its withering analysis clearly made an impression on Mr. Margolis. The selective disclosure by Mr. Holder suggests the political nature of this entire exercise.
For more analysis, we turn to Bill Burck and Dana Perino:
On February 19, Attorney General Eric Holder took part in the time-honored Washington tradition of dumping undesired news on Friday afternoons or evenings. After weeks of leaks, the Justice Department officially exonerated Bush-era lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the authors of the original legal opinions on the lawfulness of the CIA interrogation program, which are known pejoratively as the “torture memos” to critics.
This is bad news for Holder and certain other Obama appointees at Justice — it undermines the story they’ve been telling for years that the lawyers who found the CIA program lawful were sadistic criminals committed to torturing poor souls such as Khalid Sheik Muhammad — but it is a vindication of an important principle that, prior to the Holder reign, had been adhered to across administrations: honestly held legal and policy opinions are not cause for prosecution or professional discipline.
For years now this principle has been under sustained attack by hard-core left-wing congressional partisans such as Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Patrick Leahy. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine some of the more wild-eyed among them searching for ways to revoke the law licenses of conservative Supreme Court justices. Fortunately, this country is not Venezuela — at least not yet; we should not rest easy.
This was a very narrow escape that came down to the brave decision of a long-time career official at Justice named David Margolis. Margolis is a widely respected 40-year veteran who has been tasked over the years with handling many of the more sensitive internal inquiries at the Justice Department. One of his responsibilities — which he has performed honorably for a number of different attorneys general in Democratic and Republican administrations — has been to oversee inquiries conducted by lawyers in the little-known Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR. OPR is the office that recommended Yoo and Bybee be subject to disciplinary proceedings. Margolis rejected OPR’s recommendation and most of its analysis.
Their entire post is lengthy, but well worth the read, especially if you want to read more on how playing politics is alive and well in the Obama Justice Dept. Don’t miss Jennifer Rubin’s two posts on this story as well. The far left, of course, is livid over this “travesty of justice.”
I have to wonder, though, considering how Holder, prominent Democrats in Congress, and Obama himself have all ripped the Bush admnistration legal team up one side and down the other for supposedly tearing up the Constitution in their supposed implied desire to give the Executive Branch absolute power not just in times of war but peace as well, just what occasion will President Obama use to openly slam Margolis – just as he shamelessly did to the SCOTUS during his SOTU, knowing full well they couldn’t respond? How long will it be before they find a way to “transfer” Margolis to a different and less significant position in the Justice Department? Or maybe he’ll just face “disciplinary action“? Or instead of a transfer, how long will it be before they dismiss Margolis on the false basis of “senility” simply because he didn’t toe the administration’s line on Yoo and Bybee?
This report is good news, but don’t think that this is over. The far left still want to see perp walks from the Bush administration, and they’ll stop at nothing to get them, even if it means distorting and lying about the truth.
Update/Related: MM – Corruptocrat AG Eric Holder still covering up