“We Don’t Have Time to Respond to Congressional Requests…”

"…because we’re too busy stonewalling."

That appears to be DOJ’s currently operative excuse explaining why it has yet to respond to Congressional inquiries, some of which are three years old.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said that officials spend "an enormous amount of department time and resources" responding to congressional inquiries, and that they have replied to more than 500 questions from lawmakers this year. "We agree that there is always room for improvement in our effort to be responsive to Congress," Carr said.

At the same time, he said, many requests cover sensitive issues that require cutting through a thicket of pending lawsuits and classified documents, as well as checking with other government agencies and the White House. All those efforts can interfere with prosecutors’ day-to-day work, he added.

"The people in the department who must answer these inquiries are many of the same people who are making key operational decisions in the war on terrorism," Carr said.


More than a dozen senior Justice Department officials resigned last year as congressional and internal probes of political interference intensified, adding to the disarray at Washington headquarters. In 2007, officials spent 30,000 hours responding to Congress over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, the department said.

500 questions!!! In three months, really?!?!? Well golly. I can see how that would be really taxing. That’s an average of five whole questions a day! And how many people does DOJ employ, handling those five questions a day?

And as to the 30,000 hours responding to Congress–how much of that time includes the many brainstorming sessions at which Gonzales’ clique invented new excuses for firing excellent US Attorneys? Had DOJ simply admitted, in January, that the Bush Administration had fired nine US Attorneys for political reasons, DOJ could probably have saved two thirds of those hours.

Aside from all of Peter Carr’s whining about five questions a day, this article does include one more wrinkle in the back-story to the release of the Torture Memo.

Justice Department officials have said that they deserve credit, however, for releasing — last Tuesday — a 2003 opinion approving harsh military interrogation tactics. "Following a request of Senator Levin, DOD [the Defense Department] conducted a declassification review and determined that it would be appropriate to declassify the memorandum at this time," Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

"The public disclosure . . . represents an accommodation of Congress’s oversight," he added. But the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued to obtain the document under the Freedom of Information Act, maintains that it was released "as the result" of that lawsuit, and that otherwise its existence would not be public.

It appears that, before the ACLU got the Torture Memo from DOJ via DOD, Carl Levin had forced DOJ to do a classification review of the document. This is classic Levin MO, using bureaucratic means to force something like the Torture Memo out into the open. I find it more interesting, though, because of the inquiry into detainee abuse we’ve recently learned about. I presume Levin got a copy of the then still-classified memo as part of that inquiry and determined, as Marty Lederman did, that there was not one single legitimate reason to keep the memo classified. So–at least according to Brian Roehrkasse–Levin requested a classification review and, voila! The DOJ was then forced to turn the memo over to ACLU.

Which tells you two things. One, Carl Levin may be honing in on that memo in his secret inquiry (which itself should be public). And two, Brian Roehrkasse and Peter Carr count the time spent reviewing the classification of opinions that should never have been classified in the first place among the ways in which they heroically try to meet the onerous demands of Congress.

32 replies
  1. AZ Matt says:

    And as to the 30,000 hours responding to Congress–how much of that time includes the many brainstorming sessions at which Gonzales’ clique invented new excuses for firing excellent US Attorneys?

    You have to wonder if the DOJ wishes it could bill Congress for those hours.

  2. MarieRoget says:

    Good morning, ew. Speaking of Levin, he’s giving his opening statement right now on CSPAN for the Petraeus/Crocker dog ‘n pony.

    CSPAN junkie that I am, I’ll watch as long as I can stand it before going to work. Don’t think I realized how much the “trollop & c_nt” relevations of yesterday affected me until I saw McCain sitting next to Levin. I don’t often have a visceral laothing reaction, but sure have one right now. McCain now speaking. Loathsome.

  3. Mary says:

    I’ll go look for a link, but I think Leahy got the 2003 memo last fall and started the push for declassification then.

    The people in the department who must answer these inquiries are many of the same people who are making key operational decisions in the war on terrorism

    Horrors! You mean somewhere torture is on hold? Dang.

    BTW – there was a bizarre piece yesterday or the day before about Mueller both interposing himself into the British debate on wiretaps (Mueller: wiretaps good, warrantless run amok wiretaps better) and on getting coercive testimony into the court records (he made some statement about all the terrorist groups he’s taken down since 9/11) Just a fwiw

  4. TomJ says:

    30,000 hours in a year. That is about 15 wo/man years. So they could put three people on each of the five questions they answer per day. This sounds like how many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Apparently at DOJ, it only requires one, but first they have to figure out what is a light bulb, get one, classify it, wait for congress to ask what is taking so long and then declassify it. It is all very complicated.

    Sometimes I wonder if the Republicans think of the government service as their unemployment benefit. Can’t get or hold a job in the private sector, get a crony slot.

  5. oldtree says:

    I must beg to differ. Bush has not ever, nor will ever appoint, “excellent” US attorneys. Note that none of them, revealed they were being illegally pressured to bring charges and drop charges against pals of the administration.
    That is not the sign of an “excellent” USA. It is the sign of a self serving traitor in time of war. Every god damn one of them.

  6. Mary says:

    Leahy and the March 13, 2003 memo from Oct 26, 2007

    Leahy also presses Fielding to release an unclassified version of a March 13, 2003 memo by John Yoo to William J. Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel.

    From Leahy’s letter to Fielding:

    One of the documents you provided this week, per your unclassified cover letter, is a classified March 13, 2003, Memorandum for William J. Haynes, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel. This memorandum should also be provided in non-classified form as completely as possible consistent with national security requirements. To the extent possible, this document should become part of a frank and public discussion on these crucial issues.

    I guess having Haynes leave put the pressure on for Pentagon counsel to continue to assert classification for the memo. But I guess the story now is that it was not OLC, but rather DoD, that “classified” and yet, OLC, with knowledge of what the memo contained, never objected to the classification?

    I have to wonder, too, how it is that Carr and Roehrkasse take as DOJ “time” the DoD declassification of the memo? But it would be nice to hear Haynes discuss who did the classification (I’m not sure Haynes had the authority since it wasn’t issued there – maybe Rumsfeld, but maybe Haynes did have it, interestingly no one signs off on the face of the memo taking “credit” for being the classifier. I wonder who was the Decider on the memo classification?

    And with all the request from Congress, its amazing that they were able to get hordes of FBI agents to descend on a law office to investigate Edwards campaign contributions.

    • PJEvans says:

      Yes, but Edwards is a Democrat, and must therefore be doing something illegal! [/something-or-other]

      Funny how they never seem to notice GOoPers hiring hookers or taking payoffs ….

    • emptywheel says:

      In MI, it’s not a question of hordes of FBI agents to descend on a law office and on private residences OR responding to Congress. We have the largest Arab-American population in the US, so (as Judge Borman noted) it’s a question of hordes of FBI agents to descend on a law office and on private residences OR following up on terrorism investigations.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    OT, but the figurative finger the DOJ is giving Congress – “We’re working on your request, but it’s hard; please hold and enjoy the Muzak” – seems eerily similar to WAPo ombudsman Debbie Howell’s “Get Over It” (ie, “You ain’t gonna git it”) response to readers wanting more news. Guess she’d rather have six more pats on the head from Freddy Eisnford Hiatt than six more Pulitzers. Oh, well; have to read EW and FDL instead.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Brian Roehrkasse’s deputy’s response to Congress is an attempt to explain the DOJ’s stonewalling as a good faith attempt to respond to legitimate oversight. It is also an undisguised threat that if Congress insists on doing its job, the administration will blame Congress for the next unstopped terrorist attack, the next unstopped murder.

    In reality, Congress doing it’s job may stop more than one political prosecution, may instigate prosecution of crimes going unpunished here and in Iraq, and may well interrupt the ongoing shredding party.

  9. Mary says:

    12 Yep, and considering the report that at least one of the FBI agents on the law firm raid was pulled in from an active investigation in the ME, there’s that too. Of course, there are plenty of non-Arab-American terrorists and gangs for that matter.

    But a lot of the guns or butter type arguments get circular at some point, because in the end, you can and should have guns and butter. We can have effective terrorism investigations without giving up on public corruption or campaign finance enforcement. It’s just that things like firing translators because they are gay, or wildly overloading to stage a spectacular paramilitary type raid on a law firm office, or staging a storming of the Alabama legislature with US Marshalls, or wasting resources on defense and coverup of Executive branch crime, are misallocations.

    In the end, you can survive misallocations that are just made as part of the learning/adapting process or from initial ignorance. The difference about all of these misallocations is their source – they stem from calculated decisions to engage in blatant misuse of government.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I agree; we have the resources to produce both guns and butter, though perhaps not on the same shift. One would think that the ability to reroute resources to meet new or conflicting demands would be a good thing, an attribute that, like the “fight or flight” response, makes an organization adaptable and effective.

      Two things missing in this administration IMHO. At the highest levels, these adolescents only want guns, which goes along with their Freudian excess, and so refuse to supply butter while telling us it’s on the way to our grocery store shelves as we speak.

      Below the highest level, the administration purposely hires hacks or talented but very junior staff, both of whom ask few questions, do what they’re told and never, ever solve problems on their own. Thus, giving us the governmental equivalent of the fast food cashier so fearful of refilling an incorrect order, lest s/he pay for it herself, that the line backs up round the corner and onto the street. Since the movers and shakers never eat fast food, that’s just fine with them.

  10. SparklestheIguana says:

    I’m stunned that anything gets turned over to Congress or the ACLU. I mean, FOIA, who cares? Why does this adminstration even respond to FOIA requests? What agency was it that had (has) unacted-upon FOIA requests going back two decades? I’m stunned that anything ever gets declassified. I’m still stunned that Dick Cheney’s handwritten notes on Joe Wilson’s op-ed saw the light of day.

  11. Mary says:

    16 – They don’t. Until, as happened with the ACLU, a court orders the turnover.

    Really, the only time you see the lawyers in DOJ clothe themselves in even a fig leaf of integrity is when they think a Federal judge might hang their ass out to dry. Not even much then – the culture seems to be one of more and more contempt for the courts, as the lawyers realize that the Mukaseys and Ashcrofts and Gonzales and Bradburys and Goldsmiths and Yoos have held and wielded all the power. Think how many courts were lied to in how many cases involving abuse, torture, etc. and how much evidence was destroyed.

    DOJ can’t point to an “in control, with integrity” set of actions on torture since Bush took over. It’s like they are in an institutional grand mal seizure and I don’t think it ends without irrevocable damage, the least of which will be ongoing episodes.

  12. skdadl says:

    For some reason (could be that I’m slow or have just missed a lot of things, which I am and do), I have been believing for some time that crimes committed by private contractors in Iraq cannot be prosecuted in the U.S.

    In an Alternet article about yet another assault on a woman working for KBR, however, I read this:

    “There is no rational explanation for this,” says Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School who specializes in the law of armed conflict. Prosecutorial jurisdiction for crimes like Jones’ alleged rape is easily established under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Patriot Act’s special maritime and territorial jurisdiction provisions. But somebody has to want to prosecute the cases.

    Horton wonders what the 200 Justice Department employees and contractors stationed in Iraq do all day, noting that there has not been a single completed criminal conviction against a U.S. contractor implicated in a violent crime anywhere in Iraq since the invasion.

    Via friend Prole at A Creative Revolution.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I think your excerpts are correct. Iraqis can’t hold our private contractors to account, only we can – in a replay of the rules foreign imperialists imposed on their spheres of influence in China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

      The Catch-22 is that while we claim the exclusive right to hold our private contractors to account, we give them a free pass. The DOJ lawyers are too busy investigating Democratic Party-funding lawyers in Mississippi and Michigan and consensual sex paid for by Democratic governors. The FBI has too few agents to have them investigate rape, murder and fraud in Iraq, which the taxpayer ends up subsidizing and therefore, in part, condoning.

      The administration fails to solve that problem using even its own logic: hire more private contractors to investigate other PC’s. Leading one to suspect, perhaps, that it doesn’t want such crimes solved or stopped, lest those investigations come too close to its own home. It’s one more application of that Rumsfeldian insight, “Shat happens”.

  13. JohnLopresti says:

    The leadership, attorney general, in the question and answer at a luncheon speech March 27, 2008, expressed similar sentiments about the burden of time constraints in the matter of telco compliance with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
    < <…if we have to do that, we have to put in a mountain of paper about yea high, for the record, being about 4". And get an order. That takes time. And in that time, we lose intelligence…>>

    Cut to the chase: skip the regs.

    Mukasey has a lot of depoliticization of department of justice cleanup chores right now. Before his four inch rule triggers on each interrogatory sequence, though, he could send the first cull to Leahy’s committee or Levin; making incremental progress, instead of letting the backlog extend to 30,000 hours. I think it’s called checks and balances; congress is tasking DoJ at a pace reflecting the politics of the legislature, and the next congress is likely to increase the requests.

  14. Mary says:

    18 – We did have a trial of one contractor, accused in connection with the torture death of an Afghani during detention. Passaro.

    He was a CIA contractor. Based on the Yoo advice about interrogations being exempted from criminal law and crim division concurring in that, I’d expect to see some things done with that case. And that much more pressure to release the still hidden CIA memos in that case.

    And there were 24 cases of detainee abuse referred to McNulty’s (then) ED and he did such a good job making sure there was no progress on them that he ended up DAG. From a WP piece on the Yoo March 13 memo, via War and Piece,

    The Justice Department has dropped 22 out of 24 cases of alleged detainee abuse by civilian employees and contractors referred by the CIA and the Defense Department. A U.S. official said the Yoo memo’s legal arguments that interrogators are exempt from such criminal liability could have been part of the reason why those cases were dropped.

    “Could it conceivably have played a role in deciding whether to prosecute or not? Certainly, in theory,” said a law enforcement official involved in the deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If there was a memo blessing behavior at a certain point in time, and someone relied on legal guidance, could they have formed the necessary intent” to break the law?

  15. BayStateLibrul says:

    Oh fuck, Bmaz, Billy Bucks is throwing out the first pitch.
    You might be right about 2008?

    • BayStateLibrul says:

      I take that back.
      Wow. The fans gave him the biggest ovation I’ve ever heard.
      He threw a strike, and he had tears in his eyes…
      I’m sorry, Bill… I had a bad flashback.

  16. Mary says:

    18/21 – Technically, I think the Iraqis could make a claim, but practically they won’t.

    Even if you buy that the CPA could somehow issue orders that were binding on the nation after the Hussein regime was overturned, what you had was Bremer’s CPA order as the sole grounds for Iraq not having jurisdiction over crimes committed there. But with the adoption of the “interim government” in Iraq, the CPA supposedly went away. Well, someone was thinking there, and they put into effect a bridge, an “administrative law” that the interim authority adopted immediately and which incorporated all or most of the CPA orders, including the one giving jurisdiction to the nations that provided the military and contractors.

    So now you had a questionable authority CPA with a questionable authority order that acted kind of like a SOFA, but broader – and a questionable authority “interim govt” taking the hand off to put those orders into a questionable authority adminsistrative law.

    But even if you nod along with all that, Iraq then actually passed a constitution and set up its own govt. At that point, you began to have the first truly “legal” govt in Iraq. And what the democratically passed Constitution did was to pull a couple of provisions out of the administrative law (primarily relating to Kurdish law and Kurdish autonomy) and then the Iraqi Consitution specifically disavows and voids anything else in the Adminsitrative law. And no one bothers to put in anything, anywhere, about abdication of jurisdiction. Not only that, but there are some Constitutional protections granted to the Iraqi people that are not consistent with the CPA order.

    Around that same time, people are asking Rumsfeld and others about a SOFA and they are saying that it would be too politically difficult to have the Iraqi parliment, as one of its first acts, enter into a SOFA that abandons some of its sovereignty claims. So they all sit back and I guess rely upon the fact that, practically speaking, Maliki won’t do anything. And a lot of press talks about the CPA order getting adopted into the administrative law, but I haven’t seen any that discussed the Constitutional revocation of the administrative law.

    At the same time, US forces have no problem turning over people they WANT to for trial in Iraq, preferably a trial in front of an Iraqi judge who relies upon the US forces pressing the claims for his personal safety.

    Here’s another Horton piece on that topic. Judicial Bamboozlement.

    Some of all of which ties back to Mad Dog’s link about a National Security Court (a concept Goldsmith hacks like a snake oil saleman, as something to help the Republican party). We have no real legal policy, structure, rules, etc. Just political shell games, depending on who wants someone tortured or not.

  17. Citizen92 says:

    “The people in the department who must answer these inquiries are many of the same people who are making key operational decisions in the war on terrorism.”

    Super busy, people, the one or two or three who can respond to Congress, huh? Yet let’s not forget that the Bush White House changed the rules so over 450 White House staffers alone can interact with DOJ. Under Clinton, the number of White House staffers authorized to do so number was four.

    But that irony aside, most agencies employ large #’s of people to respond to Congressional inquiries. Some are politicals, some career. So I had a look today for the unfilled career slots on the government HR site, USAJOBS at OPM. The career slots are usually called “Congressional Affairs Officer” and are usually GS-0301 slots. Here’s what’s open (DC area real jobs, not the endless “posslble” military listings with the Air Force):

    NARA – 1
    Army – 4
    Commerce – 2
    Interior – 7
    DHS – 8
    VA – 3
    HHS – 6
    USDA – 6
    CITC – 1
    Justice (Marshals’ Service) – 2

    Two jobs, all in the Marshals’ Service. Doesn’t sound like there’s a crisis – otherwise they’d be hiring, right?

    What about politicals? Well, from the Plum Book, we’ve got about 8 people in the Legislative Affairs Office, and another 13 Public Affairs/Press types. So between not hiring career staff and a team of 21 press/leg affairs people, 5 requests a day is too much?

    Don’t think so.

    • bmaz says:

      In the first place, that book title is no longer valid; working for this administration cannot be a plum job. But more importantly, don’t you think they would hire more Addingtons if they could? After all the tireless civil servants you describe do the hoodoo voodoo that they do, it still has to go through Addington and OVP. How you gonna speed that up?

      • Citizen92 says:

        Totally agree. No longer a plum to work for the Administration. Only peril. An Administration who would love to have more Addingtons. But even those potential Addingtons can see the end of the line is in sight.

        This is a government where only the top 3-5 individuals’ opinions matter. Where decisionmaking is so stovepiped that a deliberative or interagency process doesn’t matter beacuse it is only used as window dressing, if that.

        My point was only to point out that, by all accounts, the Administration has a fully staffed Congressional letter writing and answer operation, yet they’re crying foul that they’re just too busy.

        They just need to be more specific and say that Addington and Cheney are too busy to inspect Congressional responses for grammar, punctuation and smells. ‘Cause you know they do.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Yes, their management style is like trying to run a carrier with three men on the bridge and no one in the engine room, let alone on the flight deck or in flight ops.

          It’s always been an administration run for political, rather than governmental purposes, which matches the ideology-without-talent (other than bureaucratic finagling) brought to it by Cheney, and the bored dilettante that is Bush.

          It runs on the schizophrenic notions that the government’s substantive purposes – delivering the mail, collecting taxes, ensuring aircraft are inspected – manage themselves; they needn’t be nurtured or led, nor need mistakes be corrected. On the other hand, all substantive purposes should be bent to partisan gain – only Republicans should benefit from them. Anything else is aiding and abetting “the enemy”; an idea somewhat at odds with Lincoln’s description of a government by, for and of the people.

          It’s third personality is its notion that there’s nothing government should do for a dollar that could not be outsourced to the private sector and done for ten dollars.

  18. anwaya says:

    I question the “5 questions a day” statistic: for a five day work week, three months is about 60 working days, not 90 rounded up to 100. This gives an average which is closer to eight questions a day. Still small, though.

    As to the 30,000 hours – these are presumably attorney hours, and can therefore (IMHO) be divided by at least 3 to get a more accurate figure for time spent on a particular question.

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