Democratic lawmakers and watchdog groups resumed demands last week that the Department of Justice should explain how emails from Bush administration lawyers that supported harsh interrogation tactics were lost. The same groups raised concerns that their absence might taint the findings of a recent ethics report which cleared the lawyers of charges that they engaged in professional misconduct.
The emails in question cover a critical period in 2002 when attorneys from Justice prepared a memo that cleared the way for CIA operatives to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other techniques against al-Qaeda suspects, according to the Washington Post.
“Why were these critical records deleted? Why were they kept from investigators?” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy asked at last week’s hearing.
Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler responded that the ethics report “does not suggest there is anything nefarious” about the lost emails, but that he had asked a department administrator “to determine what was going on with respect to the archiving of these emails.” “If they are retrievable, I will retrieve them,” Grindler said.
Also last week, the National Archives asked why Justice had not notified it about the missing emails before the ethics report was released. And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has asked Justice to launch a criminal inquiry into the lost emails.
Months ago in an internal review, Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that former department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee had committed misconduct in preparing those emails and memos. That decision was later overruled by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis who found instead that the lawyers had exercised poor judgment.
At the last week’s Senate hearing Grindler said that Margolis’ ruling was made “without interference” by senior Justice Department officials.