Panel votes to limit Justice-White House communications

Concerned over possible political influence over ongoing investigations, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to limit those in the White House who can communicate with top Justice Department officials over probes.

The legislation (S. 1845) cleared the panel for the Senate floor on a 14-2 roll call.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said some 800 people in the executive branch have the ability to contact the Justice Department. Some 40 people in the Justice Department, he said, had permission to discuss matters with the White House.

"The greatest hazard to the independence of the Justice Department is the White House," said Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney.

The bill would limit to four White House positions -- the president, vice president, counsel to the president and counselor to the president -- authorization for communication regarding an ongoing civil or criminal investigation. Those in the Justice Department allowed to discuss ongoing investigations with the White House would be limited to the attorney general, deputy attorney general and associate attorney general.

The bill would permit other communications between White House and Justice Department officials about non-investigative matters including policy, appointments, legislation, rulemaking, budgets, and intergovernmental relations.

The committee bill was a substitute by Whitehouse that requires semi-annual reports by the Justice Department and White House to the House and Senate Judiciary committees disclosing the names of those communicating about an ongoing investigation.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the Whitehouse bill was an important step toward repairing the damage that has been done to the Justice Department in recent years. He said that there had been a "dramatically expanded" number of persons permitted to communicate over investigations under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"We do not have to merely imagine the threat to the independence of law enforcement arising from those communications," Leahy said. "Our investigation revealed instances in which the department had been reduced to a political arm of the White House."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.