By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Justice Department officials intend to release more secret legal memos that underpinned the Bush administration's approach to national security issues, responding to pressure from Democratic lawmakers and interest groups that have sued for access to the sensitive materials, sources said yesterday.
At his January confirmation hearing, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he would direct new leaders of the department's Office of Legal Counsel to review opinions issued in the Bush years to determine whether some of the still-private rulings could be published.
A formal review has not yet begun, but authorities released nine memos on Monday in part because some of them had been sought in a related civil lawsuit involving John C. Yoo. Yoo, a former lawyer at the OLC, authored many controversial legal rulings supporting an expansive view of presidential authority after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001.
No imminent releases of information are planned, a department source said, but the appetite for the opinions is growing among civil liberties groups and legal scholars.
Word that more documents are to be released comes as Senate Democrats prepare to hold a hearing today on a proposal by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to establish a "truth commission" to get to the bottom of contentious Bush-era national security practices. Leahy has called the Office of Legal Counsel under Bush a "rubber stamp for some of the administration's worst abuses of power."
Two other members of the committee, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), have demanded that Justice Department leaders produce a report prepared by internal ethics watchdogs on the work of three former OLC lawyers including Yoo. The inquiry, which has been underway for more than 4 1/2 years, focuses on whether Yoo and former OLC chief Jay S. Bybee violated professional standards in preparing the national security opinions. The review also examined the work of another former OLC chief, Steven G. Bradbury, but did not make disciplinary recommendations about him, a former Bush lawyer said.