About a million of you, seeing Isikoff and Hosenball’s and Justin Elliott’s coverage of a story about Fitzgerald getting involved in an investigation of how photos of torturers ended up at Gitmo have emailed me the story in alarm. (This is a story I first covered 8 days ago.)
I’m going to attribute the alarm to the fact that neither Newsweek nor Elliott mention Bill Gertz’s much more detailed and informative story that first broke this. And to the use of phrases like “most feared,” “paparazzi,” “national controversy,” “star prosecutor,” which sensationalize the story more than it appears to merit, at least thus far.
Here’s what I think is going on:
1) DOJ has been investigating the John Adams Project since last August to find out how photographs of torturers got into the hands of detainees at Gitmo. The JAP has employed a Private Investigator to track down likely interrogators of detainees, to take pictures, get a positive ID, and once done, call those interrogators as witnesses in legal proceedings. DOJ appears concerned that JAP may have made info–learned confidentially in the course of defending these detainees–available to those detainees, and therefore violated the protective order that all defense attorneys work under. Yet JAP says they collected all the info independently, which basically means the contractors in question just got caught using bad tradecraft.
2) DOJ appears to believe no crime was committed and was preparing a report to say as much for John Brennan, who will then brief Obama on it.
3) But CIA cried foul at DOJ’s determination, claiming that because one of the lawyers involved, Donald Vieira, is a former Democratic House Intelligence staffer, he is biased. They seem to be suggesting that Vieira got briefed on something while at HPSCI that has biased him in this case, yet according to the CIA’s own records, he was not involved in any of the more explosive briefings on torture (so the claim is probably bullshit in any case). After CIA accused Vieira of bias, he recused himself from the investigation.
4) So apparently to replace Vieira and attempt to retain some hold on DOJ’s disintegrating prosecutorial discretion, DOJ brought in Patrick Fitzgerald to pick up with the investigation. Fitz, of course, a) has impeccable national security credentials, and b) has the most experience in the country investigating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, having investigated the Torturer-in-Chief and his Chief of Staff for outing CIA spy Valerie Plame. In other words, DOJ brought in a guy whom CIA can’t bitch about, presumably to shut down this controversy, not inflame it.