Sure, the associate attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department is supposed to be in charge of the office. But in 2001, then-OLC chief Jay Bybee “was never read into” the President’s Surveillance Program and instead, his deputy, John Yoo, was the only one in the office who would “draft the OLC opinions on the program.” Bybee told the inspectors general investigating the program that he “could shed no further light” on how that could be.
Let me give it a shot. Yoo was a close ideological and bureaucratic ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s lawyer David Addington and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. This passel of surveillance programs was extremely close held, and since it went outside a law that’s supposed to be the “exclusive means” for conducting foreign surveillance, having a reliable ally give a legal blessing to the program was crucial. That importance came in stark relief when non-allies at the Justice Department like Jack Goldsmith, Jim Comey, John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller refused to reauthorize the programs in 2004, resulting in the famous midnight visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bedside.
Of course, I’m just speculating. Yoo wouldn’t talk to the inspectors general.