Gonzales Took Work Home, Broke Law in Process
The Justice Dept. inspectors general recently released two reports on the department’s illegal politicization under former Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales. Today’s IG report (pdf) finds that Gonzales broke the law in a different way– bringing home “top secret” classified notes about warrantless wiretapping. Gonzales’s careless behavior involves a March 2004 White House meeting that followed then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft’s refusal, from his hospital bed, to re-authorize the program.
In 2004, Gonzales was still President George W. Bush’s chief counsel. When Ashcroft did not give legal clearance for the then-secret National Security Agency surveillance program, the president held an “emergency meeting.”
At this meeting, the IG report says, Vice President Dick Cheney, then-NSA Director (now CIA Director) Michael Hayden and congressional leaders argued over the program’s lawfulness and whether it should continue. Gonzales took notes of the meeting– and then put them in a briefcase that he brought to his Vienna, Va., home.
The house, which Gonzales no longer lives in, had a safe. But Gonzales had forgotten its combination. A year later, when Gonzales became attorney general, he took the notes to his new Justice Dept. office. There, the documents were finally put in a safe — but not a “top secret” one, as legally required. Instead, they were stored where Justice Dept. employees could access them. Gonzales told the Justice IG this was OK, because he had written “AG-EYES ONLY-TOP SECRET” on the envelope that contained the notes.
The IG report also says Gonzales may have mishandled documents on detainee interrogation.
Meanwhile, the Justice Dept. has already said it won’t press charges against Gonzales.
The report doesn’t suggest Gonzales had any nefarious motive for not properly storing his notes. But, like the Justice’s politicized hiring report. it shows the former AG’s somewhat startling lack of professionalism.