WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said Tuesday it has reopened an internal investigation of the role played by its lawyers in the administration’s warrantless surveillance program, marking a notable policy shift just days into the tenure of new Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
The investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility was abandoned in July 2006 after President Bush refused to give security clearances to the OPR attorneys attempting to conduct the probe, according to documents and congressional testimony.
That rebuff represented an unusually direct White House intervention into the Justice Department’s internal affairs and came under sharp criticism from congressional Democrats.
H. Marshall Jarrett, OPR’s chief counsel, wrote in a letter to several lawmakers Tuesday that attorneys in his office “recently received the necessary security clearances and are now able to proceed with our investigation.”
The announcement comes during the first week on the job for Mukasey, who was narrowly confirmed by the Senate last Thursday and was sworn into office Friday.
He will participate in a public swearing-in ceremony this morning with Bush and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, officials said.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., one of four House Democrats who originally requested the OPR investigation, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by news that the probe was reopened and said he was hopeful it meant the administration will be more open under Mukasey.
According to testimony and correspondence with Congress, Mukasey predecessor Alberto Gonzales had recommended granting OPR security clearances in 2006 but was overruled by Bush.