Two former Justice Department lawyers mired in controversy for their writing of legal memos that authorized the harsh interrogation of terror suspects exercised poor judgment but did not commit professional misconduct, a senior Justice official said in a much-anticipated review of an internal ethics report.
The Office of Professional Responsibility Report and a review by a senior Justice attorney were both published today by the House Judiciary Committee.
The OPR report concluded that former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel committed professional misconduct and that his deputy, John Yoo, committed intentional professional misconduct in the creation of the so-called “torture memos.”
The report said Yoo and Bybee violated two rules under the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct—failure to provide competent representation to their client, the United States, and failure to fulfill their duty to exercise independent legal judgment to render candid legal advice. Click here for a copy of the OPR report.
But Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis rejected those findings, saying that OPR’s definition of “professional misconduct” requires a known, unambiguous standard of conduct and that neither Bybee nor Yoo violated a clear obligation. “I am unpersuaded that OPR has identified such a standard,” Margolis, a career Justice lawyer, wrote in a Jan. 5 memo to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. Margolis’ review blocks OPR from referring its findings of misconduct to state bar counsel.
Senate and House Democratic leaders this evening called for hearings to explore the OPR report and its findings. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing next Friday, Feb. 26.
“The report from the Office of Professional Responsibility is a condemnation of the legal memoranda drafted by key architects of the Bush administration’s legal policy, including Jay Bybee and John Yoo, on the treatment of detainees,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement. “The deeply flawed legal opinions proffered by these former OLC officials created a ‘golden shield’ that sought to protect from scrutiny and prosecution the Bush administration’s torture of detainees in U.S. custody.”
Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement: “For years, those who approved torture and abuse of detainees have hidden behind legal memos issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. The materials released today make plain that those memos were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound, and may have been improperly influenced by a desire to tell the Bush White House and the CIA what it wanted to hear.”