Justice Dept’s probe of lawyers who wrote interrogation memos nears end

Probe wrapping up for interrogation memo lawyers

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is nearing the end of its probe into Bush administration lawyers who wrote secret memos approving harsh interrogation techniques.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of a letter from the Justice Department informing two members of Congress that a key deadline in the inquiry expired Monday.

The inquiry has become a politically-loaded guessing game, with some advocating criminal charges against the lawyers, and others urging the matter be dropped.

The letter did not indicate what the findings of the final report will be. Jay Bybee, John Yoo, and Steven Bradbury worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and played key roles in crafting the legal justification for techniques critics call torture.

Bybee is a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Bradbury returned to private practice when President George W. Bush left office.

“The former employees have until May 4, 2009 to provide their comments on the draft report,” states the letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Now that the deadline has passed, there is little more for officials to do but make revisions to it based on the responses they’ve received, and decide how much, if any, of the findings should be made public.

Both Whitehouse and Durbin have pressed the Justice Department for more information about the progress of the investigation by Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

The office examines possible ethics violations by Justice Department employees. On rare occasions, those inquiries become full-blow criminal investigations.

The language of the letter, dated Monday, indicates the inquiry will result in a final report. It does not mention the possibility of criminal charges, nor does it name the lawyers under scrutiny.

The letter does note that Attorney General Eric Holder and his top deputy will have access to any information they need “to evaluate the final report and make determinations about appropriate next steps.”

The results of the investigation were delayed late last year, when then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy asked investigators to allow the lawyers a chance to respond to their findings, as is typically done for those who still work for the Justice Department.

Investigators also shared a draft copy with the Central Intelligence Agency, to review whether the findings contained any classified information. According to the letter, the CIA then requested to comment on the report.

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