Hundreds of federal prosecutors over the past decade have committed serious misconduct, but the Justice Department has refused to release the names of the offenders, according to a report released Thursday.
From 2002 through last year, the department’s office of professional responsibility documented more than 650 infractions. Most were categorized as “reckless” or “intentional misconduct,” the Project on Government Oversight reported.
In one case, a prosecutor had a “close personal relationship” with a defendant with whom he helped broker a plea deal that resulted in a release from custody. On other occasions, attorneys didn’t turn over exculpatory evidence to defendants.
But Justice Department officials steadfastly refuse to make the identities of misbehaving government attorneys public, in essence shielding them from further reproach.
“The lack of transparency insulates the Justice Department from meaningful public scrutiny,” Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director, said in a statement announcing the group’s findings. “Our findings raise serious concerns that the attorney general’s office isn’t aggressively overseeing or disciplining its bad apples.”
Just this week, the same department watchdog office issued a blanket denial to The Washington Times for information about actions by prosecutors in a nearly decade-old federal drug conspiracy case in Washington.
Sens. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, and Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, introduced legislation Thursday that would push for some extra review of prosecutors’ decisions by giving the Justice Department’s independent inspector general the power to investigate attorney misconduct.
Currently, Justice’s office of professional responsibility investigates those cases.
“Current law invites undue influence from the attorney general’s office into the process and should be changed to ensure the integrity of investigations of misconduct within the Justice Department,” Mr. Lee said.
But she said the department provides defense attorneys, judges and others who file complaints with notifications about how the accusations were resolved.
“The department takes all allegations of attorney misconduct seriously, and that is why the office of professional responsibility thoroughly reviews each case and refers its findings of misconduct to relevant state bar associations when the rules of the state bar are implicated,” Ms. Pierce said.
“As the POGO report itself points out, the department has set a higher standard for its attorneys than do many state bars.”
In its report, POGO said the trend toward shielding government attorneys has been going on for years.
Under the George W. Bush administration, the office of professional responsibility made less information on misconduct findings available to the public, the report said, and the Obama administration has continued the pattern.