Attorney General Michael Mukasey, under pressure from a federal judge to explain how the Justice Department handled the whistleblower complaint in the Ted Stevens case, got a reprieve this afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had ordered Mukasey to prepare and sign a declaration explaining how his department received and responded to a complaint alleging prosecutorial misconduct in the Stevens case. Sullivan set the deadline at noon Friday.
But shortly before 1 p.m. today, the judge issued a 17-page opinion in which he said a Mukasey designee—someone with "sufficient responsibility and stature” at Justice—will be allowed to file the response to the court by 5 p.m. on Saturday. Sullivan said he is “sensitive” to the “extremely important, numerous, and competing demands” on high-level government officials and does not routinely burden top brass with matters that others can handle.
“However, based on the record in this case and the appearance that several attorneys in this matter—in multiple departments within the Department of Justice—may have intentionally withheld important information from the court, it is the court’s view that a declaration from an official at the highest levels of the Department of Justice is appropriate and warranted in this instance,” Sullivan wrote.
The designee must have oversight responsibility for the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Office of Public Integrity, and the FBI.
Sullivan was furious when he learned this week from prosecutors that the whistleblower, FBI Special Agent Chad Joy, had apparently been denied whistleblower protection. The judge, who thought he had been misled by prosecutors, ordered Mukasey to give him the full story. In a brief late Thursday urging Sullivan to reconsider his demand, a Justice lawyer said prosecutors had been mistaken about the whistleblower’s status.
But Sullivan (pictured at left) does not seem to believe Public Integrity Section lawyer Brenda Morris, the principal deputy chief of the division, misspoke when she said Joy was not entitled to protection. It “strains credulity to think that an entire team of very successful attorneys” could misconstrue this matter, the judge said.
“In view of what has become a pattern of belated revelations followed by unsatisfactory, and possibly false, explanations from the government in this case, the court directed that the Attorney General provide a declaration with the requested information,” Sullivan wrote in today's opinion.
In his order, the judge directly quotes harsh language (see below) from a motion prepared by Stevens’ lawyers at Williams & Connolly. The defense lawyers wrote to oppose the government’s position that Mukasey should be allowed off the hook.
“Over and over again the government has been caught in false representations and otherwise failing to perform its duties under the Constitution and the rules,” Williams & Connolly partner Brendan Sullivan Jr. wrote. “And over and over again, when caught, the government has claimed that it has simply made good faith mistakes.”
Brendan Sullivan declared "the conclusion is clear" that neither the defense nor the court can rely on the representations of Public Integrity Section lawyers.