April 21, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to Michael Isikoff about his report in Newsweek The Lawyer and The Caterpillar. This is big news if Holder follows through.

Maddow: Based on your reporting it appears that the White House and the Department of Justice are maybe on very different pages when it comes to the question of prosecutions and torture. Is that what you see going on inside the Obama administration?

Isikoff: Well I have to say, they should be on different pages. Just listening to some of the comments in the last few days, particularly from Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs about how the President is focused on looking forward and not backward and he's not interested in seeing these people prosecuted. You know there's some people at the Justice Department who were listening to that and saying that's not their decision to make.

Decisions about criminal prosecutions are made by the Justice Department based on evidence, the facts and the law and this actually is sort of a taboo about the White House meddling and dictating to the Justice Department about who should be investigated and who shouldn't. If fact if you go and Google Justice Department White House communications you'll the first thing that will pop up is Justice Department guidelines that very specifically lay out the ground rules for communications between Justice Department and White House on pending criminal cases and when, how those communications should be handled and what role the White House has in even learning about criminal investigations, much less trying to dictate who should be investigated and who shouldn't.

Maddow: So are you hearing from sources at the Justice Department that when they heard Raum Emanuel yesterday and Robert Gibbs today saying there won't be prosecutions in that sense there were, there was surprise, there was anger at the Justice Department?

Isikoff: Well we wrote out story before they made those comments and this is a story that first appeared on the web on Saturday in the magazine that came out yesterday, but I can tell you that people at the Justice Department had been wrestling with this issue for some time. Sen. Carl Levin who incidentally has a major new report coming out tomorrow night on Defense Department interrogations and harsh interrogations and how they came about had recommended to Holder the Attorney General appointing a outside lawyer, a retired Federal judge, somebody to look at all the evidence here and reach conclusions as to whether or not criminal misconduct may have taken place. We do report that Holder has been weighing that idea as a possibility. No hard conclusions have been reached. He hasn't definitely decided to do it. But I do know that people at the Justice Department are taking this very seriously and don't think that they take their marching orders from anybody at the White House on this issue. That's considered a no no.

From the article:

But the Obama administration is not off the hook. Though administration officials declared that CIA interrogators who followed Justice's legal guidance on torture would not be prosecuted, that does not mean the inquiries are over. Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers, who declined to be identified discussing a sensitive subject, say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has discussed naming a senior prosecutor or outside counsel to review whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries--and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place. Some Justice officials are deeply troubled by reports of detainee treatment and believe they may suggest criminal misconduct, these sources say. Even if prosecutions prove too difficult to bring, an outside counsel's report could be made public. For his part, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still pushing for a "truth commission." In a democracy, the wheels of justice grind on--and the president, for good reason under the rule of law, does not have the power to stop them.

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