Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On Committee Consideration Of Authorization
To Subpoena Office Of Legal Counsel Documents

September 25, 2008


The first item on our agenda remains the authorization for subpoenas relating to the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. As I noted last week, and have been saying for the better part of eight years, this Office's work has largely been kept secret from this oversight Committee, despite our efforts.  For the last eight years, the Bush-Cheney administration has been having the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) write secret laws by creating interpretations of the laws Congress has passed.  Keeping binding interpretations of such secret law from Congress is wrong. 


During this administration, OLC has been misused to provide legal justifications for misguided policies. That advice has been deeply flawed, sloppy, and flat out wrong – but it has been permitted to happen because secrecy has prevented our oversight.  Unjustified secrecy continues to prevent the review by this Committee that would provide a check and some control on how the administration is interpreting the law that is Congress’s constitutional responsibility to write. That obsessive secrecy even prevents us from knowing the subject matter on which OLC has written opinions.


There is no justification for keeping OLC legal interpretations secret from this Committee, let alone the index I have long sought. I seek this authorization after years of being rebuffed and slow-rolled in our attempts to find out how this administration has interpreted and applied the laws written by Congress. 

I regret that Republican members have not rallied around our oversight effort, but that is their choice.  Senator Kyl delayed action for the last week.  I can report that despite my willingness to meet, the President’s counsel has shown no interest in meeting or resolving this matter.  In fact, in his most recent letter response to me he bucked the issue back to the Department of Justice – even though we all know it is the White House that is calling the shots.  Their saying that they will “get back to us” after five years of stonewalling, and as the sun sets on this administration is hardly a reason to delay further. 


I understand that Senator Specter is more optimistic than I.  He also thought that the White House would eventually agree to producing the witnesses and information we requested in connection with our investigation into the U.S. attorney firing scandal and he worked hard to make that happen.  Regrettably, that did not happen either and the White House and Karl Rove remain in contempt. 


After five years of being ignored with respect to the abuses at OLC, I believe it is time for this Committee to act and authorize subpoenas so that we can better perform our important oversight and legislative responsibilities.  I ask for the Committee’s support and favorable action on the subpoena authorization without further delay.   


I said last week that when we make progress on the authorization, I believe that we will be able to proceed through the rest of the agenda fairly quickly. I still believe that to be the case.  But cooperation around here has become a one-way street, and I have been granting request after request of the Committee’s Republican members.  A bit of cooperation from them at this, our last meeting, will be appreciated.


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Office of Sen. Leahy