Attorney General John Ashcroft has expanded the jurisdiction of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which already has been asked to investigate the FBI, to give it primary responsibility for reviewing future accusations of misconduct involving bureau employees.
The Ashcroft order, issued yesterday, comes in the wake of at least three separate ongoing FBI investigations and two pending congressional oversight hearings of the bureau following a series of critical mistakes, questionable probes and the arrest of a veteran FBI agent as a Russian spy.
The order reassigns responsibility for the investigation of suspected misconduct involving employees of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from the Offices of Professional Responsibility within the two law enforcement agencies.
The two agencies previously had primary jurisdiction to investigate their own employees, with the inspector general’s office gaining jurisdiction only if directly ordered by the attorney general or deputy attorney general.
“This action now gives the Office of Inspector General the same authority to investigate misconduct allegations against employees of the FBI and DEA that the Office of Inspector General has with respect to all other components of the Department of Justice, thereby promoting consistency in the disposition of such allegations,” Mr. Ashcroft said in a statement.
The order takes effect immediately.
FBI spokesman John Collingwood noted yesterday that the bureau had expressed its “full support” for the proposal when it was first mentioned as a possibility by Mr. Ashcroft.
The FBI already has been targeted by Mr. Ashcroft for a management review by a team of key department officials headed by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, and is the focus of a separate probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.
Inspector General Glenn A. Fine was asked last month by Mr. Ashcroft to investigate the FBI’s failure to turn over thousands of pages of documents to prosecutors and defense lawyers in the Timothy McVeigh case and to determine why former FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen was able to spy for the Russian government undetected for more than 20 years.
Mr. Fine’s probe is to be completed by Nov. 1.
Former FBI and CIA Director William Webster also is conducting an investigation of the bureau’s internal security measures following the arrest of Hanssen, a counterintelligence agent who pleaded guilty last week to spying for Russia.
Congressional leaders, concerned about what they have described as a growing lack of public confidence in the FBI, also have announced intentions to investigate the bureau. The Senate and House Judiciary Committees have scheduled oversight hearings in the McVeigh and Hanssen cases and other questions of suspected investigative and internal misconduct.
Both Republicans and Democrats have suggested outside commissioners and new internal watchdogs to oversee the beleaguered agency.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has called for the appointment of a deputy inspector general to oversee only the FBI, saying he was concerned that the bureau “has lost its way.”
Sens. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have introduced bipartisan legislation to create a separate, fully independent inspector general to oversee the FBI in what they described as an effort to “increase accountability” for the federal agency.
The FBI failed to turn over more than 4,000 pages of documents in the McVeigh case as required by a court order. It also was embarrassed by the Hanssen arrest, having to acknowledge that he worked in the bureau’s counterintelligence division during the time he was accused of stealing U.S. secrets.