Mukasey memo limits DOJ case discussions with White House

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile; JURIST news archive] sent a memo to top Justice Department staff Wednesday advising them of a shift in DOJ policy that will limit who can discuss ongoing investigations with the White House. After he was nominated as attorney general, Mukasey promised that the DOJ would maintain greater independence [JURIST report] from the White House, saying that he would forbid DOJ employees from discussing sensitive cases with outside agencies. In his memo, Mukasey said that communications with the White House about ongoing cases will be limited to cases that are determined to be necessary to the president's ability to carry out his constitutional responsibilities. Only Mukasey or the deputy attorney general will be authorized to initiate discussions with White House staff, and then only with the White House counsel or deputy counsel. If necessary, a DOJ aide can be designated to continue discussions, but Mukasey wrote that the "designation will be limited to the fewest number of people practicable." In addition, the associate attorney general and solicitor general will be authorized in limited circumstances to discuss civil lawsuits and appeals without prior authorization from Mukasey or his deputy.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), one of the senators who led the call for a policy change, praised Mukasey's memo. According to a press release from his office:

"Today's new policy is a clear, unmistakable and welcome repudiation of the Gonzales era, and this change takes a significant step towards restoring Americans' confidence in the integrity of our justice system," Whitehouse said. "I'm encouraged that Attorney General Mukasey has honored his commitment to begin restoring the firewall against White House politicization at the Department."

In the Clinton administration, a total of only seven people at the White House and the Justice Department were permitted to initiate discussions of ongoing cases or investigations, including the President, Vice President, and Attorney General. During the tenure of Attorney General John Ashcroft, that policy changed to authorize more than 40 people at the Department and more than 400 people in the White House to initiate such conversations, opening up unrestricted channels for political interference.
According to Whitehouse, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later "signed a 2006 memorandum further expanding the authority to discuss cases to over 900 people in the executive branch, explicitly including the chief of staff and counsel to the Vice President." AP has more.

 

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