Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 9:57 a.m.
WASHINGTON — Former Bush administration officials have been asking the Justice Department to soften the findings in its investigation of memos signed by Nevadan Jay Bybee and another former department lawyer that authorized harsh interrogation techniques, the Washington Post is reporting today.
The Post reports that representatives for Bybee and the other former official encouraged the effort:
“Former Bush administration officials have launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to urge Justice Department leaders to soften an ethics report criticizing lawyers who blessed harsh detainee interrogation tactics, according to two sources familiar with the efforts.
“Representatives for John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, subjects of the ethics probe, have encouraged former Justice Department and White House officials to contact new officials at the department to point out the troubling precedent of imposing sanctions on legal advisers, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is not complete.”
Bybee signed off on a key memo that allowed harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which critics say is torture, during his tenure in the Bush administration’s Justice Department.
(The memo also authorized using a caterpillar to psychologically challenge a suspect afraid of stinging bugs — a technique that was not used.)
The Justice Department has been conducting an ethics probe of the memos due out possibly later this summer.
Bybee now serves on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and is based in Las Vegas. Some lawmakers in Washington have called for him to step down, and some critics have called for his impeachment.
The Post goes on to report that the draft document recommended disciplinary action, but no criminal prosecutions.
“The draft report of more than 200 pages, prepared in January before Bush's departure, recommends disciplinary action, rather than criminal prosecution, by state bar associations against Yoo and Bybee, former attorneys in the department's Office of Legal Counsel, for their work in preparing and signing the interrogation memos. State bar associations have the power to suspend a lawyer's license to practice or impose other penalties.”
Bybee, who taught at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and remains on faculty there, has remained mostly silent despite escalating calls for his impeachment from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Only last week did Bybee release a statement to the New York Times defending his work after an earlier Washington Post story reported that he had expressed regrets over his role in the memos.
The Post reported today that Maureen Mahoney, an attorney for Bybee, declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Justice Department. Bybee faced a Monday deadline to respond to investigators, the Post said.
Nevada’s two senators supported Bybee’s appointment to the federal bench in 2003, and have declined to say he should step down.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the Sun late last month that he wanted to wait for further information before making any decisions.
Republican Sen. John Ensign defended Bybee’s work, and said calls for his impeachment are “outrageous.”
Bybee’s colleagues at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law have been puzzled by the memos, saying they don’t match the scholar they knew.