- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

Three Democratic senators have said they will block the confirmation of a senior Justice Department official until the administration agrees to let proceed an investigation into its surveillance program.

Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts wrote to President Bush last week, saying it would be “inappropriate” to confirm Steven G. Bradbury until the “investigation is completed and Mr. Bradbury is cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Mr. Bradbury has been nominated to take over the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides binding legal advice to the White House and other federal agencies, drafts the attorney general’s legal opinions and adjudicates legal disputes between government departments. The nomination was sent to the Senate in January.

He has been running the office in an acting capacity since last summer, and under his leadership, it has mounted an aggressive campaign to defend the legality and constitutionality of the administration’s program of warrantless wiretaps on calls into and out of the United States by people suspected of being connected with al Qaeda or other terror groups.

The Office of Legal Counsel, for instance, produced a Jan. 19 document setting out the administration’s case that warrantless surveillance of international electronic communications was legal under the president’s inherent powers as commander in chief and Congress’ 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the U.S. war on terror.

The office also was one of those asked to provide information and documents to an internal Justice Department investigation into the wiretapping program. The three senators — all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — say this indicates that the office was a target of the investigation, which was probing whether any department lawyers had engaged in misconduct when they authorized the program.

“Since [the probe] was investigating whether [the Office of Legal Counsel] engaged in misconduct while Mr. Bradbury was acting head, we believe it inappropriate to confirm Mr. Bradbury at this time,” they wrote.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday that it was “unfair” to call Mr. Bradbury a target of the investigation because “the [wiretapping] program began in 2001, before he was even a government employee.”

Senate rules, however, allow a single senator to effectively block any nomination from getting to the floor. Mr. Roehrkasse said it was “surprising and unfortunate” that the senators had chosen to block the nomination.

“We will therefore object to proceeding with Mr. Bradbury’s nomination before the … investigation is completed,” the senators conclude.

The probe, conducted by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, was closed earlier this year after investigators were not granted the security clearances needed to review documents and conduct interviews about the program.

The man leading that investigation, H. Marshall Jarrett, complained that many other department staffers — both investigating the leak of information about the program and representing the government in civil litigation about it — had been granted clearances.

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