- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Justice Department ethics officials have stopped short of recommending criminal charges against Bush administration lawyers who wrote secret memos approving harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects.

A person familiar with the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators with the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) recommended referring two of the three lawyers to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action.

The person, who was not authorized to discuss the inquiry, noted that the investigative report was still in draft form and subject to revisions.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also may make his own determination about what steps to take once the report has been made final.

The Justice Department notified two senators by letter that a key deadline in the inquiry expired Monday, signaling that most of the work on the matter was completed.

The letter does not mention the possibility of criminal charges, nor does it name the lawyers under scrutiny. Nor does the letter indicate what the findings of the final report would be.

The inquiry has become a politically loaded guessing game, with some advocating criminal charges against the lawyers and others urging that the matter be dropped.

Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and played key roles in crafting the legal justification for techniques critics call torture.

Investigators initially recommended professional sanctions against Mr. Bybee and Mr. Yoo, but not Mr. Bradbury, according to the person familiar with the matter. That would come in the form of recommendations to state bar associations, where the most severe possible punishment is disbarment.

Mr. Bybee is now a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Yoo is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Mr. Bradbury returned to private practice when he left the government at the end of President George W. Bush’s term in the White House.

Asked for comment, Mr. Yoo’s lawyer Miguel Estrada said he signed an agreement with the Justice Department not to discuss the draft report. Bybee lawyer Maureen Mahoney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

“The former employees have until May 4, 2009, to provide their comments on the draft report,” states the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

Mr. Whitehouse has scheduled a hearing on the issue next week.

Now that the deadline has passed, there is little more for officials to do but make revisions to it based on the responses they have received, and decide how much, if any, of the findings should be made public.

Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Durbin have pressed the Justice Department for more information about the progress of the OPR investigation.

The office examines possible ethics violations by Justice Department employees. On rare occasions, the office can recommend a full-blown criminal investigation.

The language of the letter, dated Monday, indicates the inquiry will result in a final report.

The letter notes that Mr. Holder and his top deputy will have access to any information they need “to evaluate the final report and make determinations about appropriate next steps.”

The results of the investigation were delayed late last year, when then-Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and his deputy asked investigators to give the lawyers a chance to respond to their findings, as is typically done for those who still work for the Justice Department.

Investigators also shared a draft copy with the CIA to review whether the findings contained any classified information. According to the letter, the CIA then requested to comment on the report.

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