Balkinization  

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The CIA Tapes Prosecutor is Neither "Outside" Nor "Special," Nor "Independent"

Marty Lederman

Initial reports are that the Attorney General appointed an "outside" counsel to oversee the criminal investigation of the CIA tape destruction. But there's nothing really "outside" about John Durham. He's a career DOJ prosecutor, the number two official in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut. As the Attorney General explained today (see statement below), the case would ordinarily be handled by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, but that U.S. Attorney requested that his office be recused from the matter "in order to avoid any possible appearance of a conflict with other matters handled by that office." (Hmm . . . what might that mean? That the investigation deals with whether there was obstruction of justice in cases being prosecuted by the E.D. Va., perhaps?)

Therefore, the AG appointed Durham to to serve as "Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia" for purposes of this matter. Durham will still report to the Deputy Attorney General, who in turn reports to Judge Mukasey. This is not like the Scooter Libby case, in which the "special" prosecutor was guaranteed substantial independence from Main Justice. (That's not surprising -- it's not apparent why the AG, and Main Justice, should not have ultimate supervision over the case.)
Statement by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey Regarding the Opening of an Investigation Into the Destruction of Videotapes by CIA Personnel

“Following a preliminary inquiry into the destruction by CIA personnel of videotapes of detainee interrogations, the Department’s National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation as outlined below.

“This preliminary inquiry was conducted jointly by the Department’s National Security Division and the CIA’s Office of Inspector General. It was opened on December 8, 2007, following disclosure by CIA Director Michael Hayden on December 6, 2007, that the tapes had been destroyed. A preliminary inquiry is a procedure the Department of Justice uses regularly to gather the initial facts needed to determine whether there is sufficient predication to warrant a criminal investigation of a potential felony or misdemeanor violation. The opening of an investigation does not mean that criminal charges will necessarily follow.

“An investigation of this kind, relating to the CIA, would ordinarily be conducted under the supervision of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, the District in which the CIA headquarters are located. However, in an abundance of caution and on the request of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in accordance with Department of Justice policy, his office has been recused from the investigation of this matter, in order to avoid any possible appearance of a conflict with other matters handled by that office.

“As a result, I have asked John Durham, the First Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, to serve as Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia for purposes of this matter. Mr. Durham is a widely respected and experienced career prosecutor who has supervised a wide range of complex investigations in the past, and I am grateful to him for his willingness to serve in this capacity. As the Acting United States Attorney for purposes of this investigation, Mr. Durham will report to the Deputy Attorney General, as do all United States Attorneys in the ordinary course. I have also directed the FBI to conduct the investigation under Mr. Durham’s supervision.

“Earlier today, the Department provided notice of these developments to Director Hayden and the leadership of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees of the Congress.”

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