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For Immediate Release
February 26, 2010

Grassley, Judiciary Republicans Press for Answers from Holder After Being Snubbed in Response to Previous Letter on Justice Department Lawyers Working on Gitmo Detainee Policy 

WASHINGTON – Chuck Grassley is leading Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans today in sending a second letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for answers to their previous letter and Grassley’s questions from a November 18, 2009 oversight hearing. At that hearing, Grassley asked the Attorney General about possible conflicts of interest of Justice Department lawyers handling detainee policies.

   

During the hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder only said he would “consider” Grassley’s request for a list of Justice Department attorneys who may have conflicts of interest with detainee issues being worked on at the department. The Attorney General had a second chance to provide answers after Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans asked the questions in a letter following the hearing. The Attorney General did not respond himself, but instead had an assistant attorney general respond who also failed to answer the simple, straightforward questions regarding who the government officials working on detainee policy are, what cases they previously handled, and if they have recused themselves. 

 

“The administration has made many highly questionable decisions when it comes to national security, chief among them the decisions related to these Guantanamo detainees. First, they want to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and bring terrorists to U.S. soil.

 

Then, they want to try the mastermind of the deadliest attack against our country on U.S. soil in our civilian courts, and give him more constitutional rights than our own service members who are court marshaled. Americans are concerned about these decisions.

 

They have a right to know who advises the Attorney General and the President on these critical matters,” Grassley said. “Maybe the third time will be the charm in getting some answers to these questions.” 

 

Here is a copy of the text of the letter from Grassley and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The text of the original letter follows today’s letter. A copy of the response from the Justice Department can be found on Grassley’s website at this link http://grassley.senate.gov/about/upload/Judiciary-02-19-10-response-from-DOJ-on-Gitmo-recusals.pdf

 

February 26, 2010

 

Via Electronic Transmission

 

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20530

 

Dear Attorney General Holder:

 

On February 18, 2010, we received a response to our letter following up on conflicts of interest questions Senator Grassley raised at the November 18, 2009, Department of Justice Oversight hearing. Your response took three months and falls far short of providing the answers we sought. Further, it raises more questions than it answers about why the Department refuses to provide to Congress the names of political appointees at the Department who are working on detainee cases and policy and who previously represented detainees or advocated on behalf of detainees in policy matters. 

 

The February 18 response does not provide complete answers and raises a host of new questions. Even the information that has a glimmer of being labeled responsive is full of caveats, exceptions, and qualifications, including the limiting phrases “to the best of our knowledge” and “as far as we are aware.” Further, the response indicates that instead of surveying the entire Department for political appointees with potential conflicts, the Department only surveyed a limited number of offices and excluded important offices at the Department including the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Bureau of Prisons.   

 

The Department’s response is largely a recitation of public laws and model rules, and states the Department “does not maintain comprehensive records of [recusals] about individual Department employees.” In fact, the first attempt at a response to our questions appears on the third page of the letter. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the letter is that it indicates that at least ten political appointees at the Department have worked on detainee issues prior to their employment—by either directly representing detainees in court, contributing to detainee-related cases, or being involved in detainee advocacy—yet, they remain eligible to work on these issues and specific cases. The letter indicates that these same political appointees are only subject to selective recusals that are not public and not maintained in a centralized database at the Department. Further, the letter fails to provide the names of the political appointees, the cases or issues they worked on prior to joining the Department, and what issues or cases they are working on now in their respective capacities at the Department. 

 

The letter adds that some political appointees have recused themselves from particular matters “regarding specific detainees in which their former firms represent the detainee or another party and from decisions relating specifically to the disposition of particular detainees.” Despite this assurance, the letter fails to identify these attorneys or the specific detainees or cases from which they are recused. The only two individuals who are directly identified in the letter are the two that we cited in our letter request based upon public media accounts of their prior representations. 

 

Simply put, this letter is at best nonresponsive and, at worst, intentionally evasive. Further, we have a hard time reconciling this nonresponsive letter with commitments you made prior to your confirmation. For example, prior to your confirmation as Attorney General, you responded to questions for the record submitted by Senator Grassley stating that you, “fully respect the important role of Congress under the Constitution, and if confirmed…will work to ensure that the Department operates in a manner consistent with the legislative branch’s legitimate oversight functions.” In addition to these written responses, you gave assurances to Committee members in personal meetings that you would work to answer all questions posed in a timely and complete manner and work cooperatively with members of Congress in the oversight process. 

 

Despite these assurances prior to confirmation, it appears the Department has chosen to go another direction and refuse to provide complete responses to our legitimate oversight inquiry. This development is troubling. Accordingly, we reiterate the initial requests from the November 24, 2009, letter and ask that you provide timely and complete responses to the following:

 

Original Requests:

 

(1) The names of all political appointees in the Department who represented detainees, worked for organizations advocating on behalf of detainees, or worked for organizations advocating on terrorism or detainee policy;

 

(2) The cases or projects that these appointees worked on with respect to detainees prior to joining the Justice Department;

 

(3) The cases or projects relating to detainees that they have worked on since joining the Justice Department;

 

(4) A list of all political appointees who have been instructed to, or have voluntarily recused themselves from working on specific detainee cases, projects, or matters pending before the courts or at the Justice Department;

 

Additional Requests Raised by February 18, 2010, Response:

 

(5) The names and titles of the ten individuals mentioned in the February 18, 2010, response and the detainee-related cases and/or other advocacy for detainees these individuals worked on prior to their employment at the Department;

 

(6) The names and titles of the ten individuals mentioned in the February 18, 2010, response and the detainee-related cases and/or policy issues they are working on at the Department currently;

 

(7) The names and titles of the ten individuals mentioned in the February 18, 2010, response and a specific list of all detainee-related cases and/or policy issues they are specifically recused from;

 

(8) An explanation for the reason the February 18, 2010, response failed to provide the names of the individual political appointees at the Department that are recused from specific cases or policy matters.

 

(9) An explanation as to how and why only certain offices at the Department were selected for inclusion in the search for individuals with potential conflicts of interest;

 

(10) An explanation as to why you did not canvass all offices at the Department, including: the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Bureau of Prisons prior to providing the February 18, 2010, response;

 

(11) The names of all political appointees in all offices at the Department, including: the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Bureau of Prisons who represented detainees, worked for organizations advocating on behalf of detainees, or worked for organizations advocating on terrorism or detainee policy;

 

(12) The cases or projects that the appointees in all offices at the Department, including: the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Bureau of Prisons worked on with respect to detainees prior to joining the Justice Department;

 

(13) The cases or projects relating to detainees that the appointees in all offices at the Department, including: the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Bureau of Prisons have worked on since joining the Justice Department;

 

(14) An explanation why the Department “does not maintain comprehensive records of [recusals] about individual Department employees.” This response should also answer the following:

 

a. How do Department employees know when an individual is recused from a specific case or policy matter?

 

b. What procedures and safeguards are in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest from becoming actual conflicts of interest?

 

These unanswered original questions and the new questions generated by the February 18, 2010, response raise serious concerns about who is providing advice on detainee matters. These requests are straightforward and are important components of the Judiciary Committee’s comprehensive oversight of the Department.

 

We look forward to a complete and timely response to these questions no later than March 12, 2010.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

November 24, 2009 Via Electronic Transmission The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20530

 

Dear Attorney General Holder:

 

At the November 18, 2009, hearing “Oversight of the Department of Justice,” Senator Grassley asked you for information regarding attorneys at the Justice Department who are advising you on terrorism and detainee policy. Senator Grassley’s questions focused on what appear to be conflicts of interest arising from the prior representation of individual detainees, advocacy on behalf of groups of detainees, or advocacy on detainee policy by attorneys now employed at the Justice Department. 

 

These questions follow public accounts of what appear to be conflicts of interest by current Justice Department employees. For example, National Journal reported that Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, continues to work on high level terrorism and detainee policy despite his previous legal representation of Osama Bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard. Further, The New York Post reported that Jennifer Daskal was hired to serve in the Justice Department’s National Security Division and a to serve on a terrorist detainee task force despite having no prosecutorial experience and a long history of advocating for detainees. These public accounts of apparent conflicts of interest by those crafting terrorism and detainee policies raise serious concerns that need to be addressed. 

 

To better understand the scope of these apparent conflicts of interest, Senator Grassley asked for the following information:

 

(1) The names of political appointees in the Department who represented detainees, worked for organizations advocating on behalf of detainees, or worked for organizations advocating on terrorism or detainee policy;

 

(2) The cases or projects that these appointees worked on with respect to detainees prior to joining the Justice Department;

 

(3) The cases or projects relating to detainees that they have worked on since joining the Justice Department; and

 

(4) A list of all political appointees who have been instructed to, or have voluntarily recused themselves from working on specific detainee cases, projects, or matters pending before the courts or at the Justice Department. 

 

Unfortunately, your response to Senator Grassley’s request was less than encouraging as you repeatedly stated you would merely “consider” the request. It is imperative that the Committee have this information so we can assure the American people that the Department is in fact formulating terrorism and detainee policy without bias or preconceived beliefs. 

 

In addition to the information requested at the hearing, we ask that you also provide responses to the following related questions:

 

(1) Have any ethics waivers been granted to individuals working on terrorism or detainee issues pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order dated January 21, 2009, titled “Ethical Considerations for Executive Branch Employees?”

 

(2) What are the Department’s criteria for recusing an individual who previously lobbied on detainee issues, represented specific detainees, worked on terrorism or detainee policy for advocacy groups, or formulated terrorism or detainee policy?

 

(3) What is the scope of recusal for each of the political appointees who have recused themselves from working on specific detainee cases, projects, or matters? (e.g. is an individual who previously represented a detainee recused only from matters related to that individual or from other detainees?) Please provide a detailed listing of the scope of each recusal. 

 

We ask that you provide the requested information in unredacted format as soon as possible. This information is important and will help to uphold the promise President Obama made to the American public to make his administration the most ethical and transparent ever. We trust that you share our concerns with avoiding conflicts of interest and promoting transparency at the Department. 

 

 

Sincerely,