Incredibly, the former head of OPR, Marshall Jarrett, assigned a liberal former Civil Rights Division lawyer — Tamara Kessler — as the chief investigator in the probe of the Civil Rights Division. Kessler’s glaring conflict of interest went unrecognized by the very office that is supposed to investigate ethical breaches and conflicts of interest.
The recent (and now discredited) OPR report examining the legal memoranda prepared by top DOJ attorneys on “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Bush administration provides another example of OPR’s extreme political bias. That report — authored in large part by Tamara Kessler — wrongly accused two Office of Legal Counsel attorneys (John Yoo and Jay Bybee) of “professional misconduct” based on OPR’s disagreement with the substantive legal conclusions they had reached. Michael Mukasey — who served as attorney general under President Bush, and before that as a federal judge — blasted the OPR report, characterizing it as “based on factual errors, legal analysis by commentators and scholars with unstated potential biases, unsupported speculation about the motives of Messrs. Bybee and Yoo, and a misunderstanding of certain significant . . . interagency practices.”
Even the Justice Department’s senior career attorney, David Margolis, rejected the OPR findings and heavily criticized the office for creating new standards out of whole cloth and grounding its findings on a factual foundation that crumbled at the slightest touch.
Although its substantial deficiencies have now been exposed, OPR (often working in conjunction with the inspector general) managed to create enormous public-relations problems for the Bush administration. Democrats applauded these faux findings during the final years of Bush’s presidency, but Holder apparently wants to make sure that OPR will act in the opposite way for the Obama administration, i.e., as a shop that whitewashes real misconduct. Hence the appointment of Ashton.
Ashton may be a “veteran Justice prosecutor,” as the Post called her, but according to lawyers who worked with her at DOJ, she is also a highly political person who was so upset over George Bush’s reelection in 2004 that she angrily vented her frustration to her colleagues in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) — of which she was a deputy director — and made no effort to hide her contempt for President Bush or his administration.
Ashton’s bad reputation goes beyond partisan grievance. Two former directors of EOUSA were interviewed in 2006 by the House Judiciary Committee during its investigation of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. According to someone familiar with the entire transcripts of those interviews (which are not public), the directors were scathing in their criticism. Ashton reportedly would go through the desk of one former director, Mary Beth Buchanan, when she was out of the office, rifling through confidential files and documents. Ashton was also characterized by former colleagues as completely untrustworthy — someone who treated subordinates like chattel while she did everything possible to ingratiate herself with her bosses, often claiming credit for work that others had done. This sounds more like the behavior of a less-than-stellar high-school student than that of a DOJ lawyer.
Ashton’s political loyalties were demonstrated emphatically by her request to be detailed to the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the fiercest and most partisan liberal Democrats in the Senate. The Justice Department acquiesced to Ashton’s request and actually paid her salary while she worked in Leahy’s office, helping him attack the Bush administration’s Justice Department. As one Justice Department lawyer who worked with Ashton told me, “You don’t do a detail with Patrick Leahy if you’re not a committed, solid Democrat whose political loyalty Leahy would never question.”