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Report Finds Prosecutorial Misconduct and Secrecy at Justice Department

Over the last 12 years, hundreds of federal prosecutors and other Department of Justice (DOJ) employees have been involved in professional misconduct, including misleading courts, withholding evidence that could have helped defendants, abusing their power and violating constitutional rights, according to the Project On Government Oversight, which reviewed years of data and published a report on its findings today.

The records, which POGO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and from and DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), show that from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2013, OPR documented more than 650 infractions, including more than 400 that OPR categorized as intentional or reckless.

But the public would be hard-pressed to know which Justice Department attorneys have crossed ethical or legal lines because OPR, as a matter of policy, doesn’t release identifying information in its reports.

“The lack of transparency insulates the Justice Department from meaningful public scrutiny,” said Danielle Brian, POGO executive director. “Our findings raise serious concerns that the Attorney General’s Office isn’t aggressively overseeing or disciplining its bad apples.”

POGO’s report includes the following recommendations to improve transparency and accountability at the Justice Department:

  • Notifying relevant state bar authorities of prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Posting findings of professional misconduct online for public inspection, including details of wrongdoing and what corrective and disciplinary actions taken.
  • Empowering the DOJ Office of the Inspector General to investigate misconduct by DOJ attorneys.

A bipartisan bill introduced today by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) would address one of those recommendations by amending federal law to give the DOJ Inspector General jurisdiction to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against DOJ attorneys. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are co-sponsors.

Under current law, the DOJ’s Inspector General must turn cases of wrongdoing over to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The IG has far more independence than does OPR and should not be prevented from conducting oversight of any misconduct at DOJ.

“The rules that apply to inspectors general in other federal agencies should apply at the Department of Justice,” said Sen. Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Placing this responsibility under the OIG increases government transparency and ensures that instances of abuse will be handled in a timely and responsible manner.”

Sen. Tester, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and federal programs, added: “Inspectors General are true watchdogs who save taxpayer dollars and help deliver better services to Americans. This bill is a common-sense measure that makes sure taxpayers are getting the level of service they expect and increases oversight of an agency that has enormous powers under the Patriot Act.”

To read POGO’s report, go here.