WASHINGTON – Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales mishandled highly classified information related to two of the government’s most sensitive counterterrorism programs, including its controversial domestic surveillance operation, a Justice Department report released Tuesday said.
The report said Gonzales took home classified notes in February 2005 that partially outlined some operational aspects of the surveillance program and left them at home for an “indeterminate period of time.”
The attorney general had a safe at his home – not an authorized storage area for classified material – but he did not use it “because he did not remember the combination,” Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote.
Fine’s review found that Gonzales mishandled 17 other documents, including those involving the interrogation of terrorism suspects. The report said Gonzales often stored the material in an unauthorized Justice safe outside his office that was accessible to “several employees” without proper security clearances.
Federal regulations require that those documents be stored in a special, tamper-proof compartment to prevent and detect any access by “unauthorized” people. Improper handling of classified documents violates federal criminal law and is punishable by fines and or a maximum of one year in prison.
Fine referred the breaches to Justice’s National Security Division. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Gonzales but did not say why.
Gonzales resigned in August 2007 amid an investigation into the firings of nine federal prosecutors for alleged political reasons. Fine is investigating Gonzales’ role in those firings and his testimony about the dismissals to Congress.
“Gonzales was responsible for safeguarding classified materials,” the report said. “Our investigation found that Gonzales did not fulfill these obligations.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said the report “adds to an already troubling record of the Justice Department under this administration and under Mr. Gonzales.”