Torture Memo Probe May Lead To Disbarments

The Justice Department has nearly completed its investigation into lawyers who wrote the "torture" memos authorizing harsh interrogations.

According to two sources familiar with the investigation, the report will refer people to bar associations for possible disciplinary action. Criminal prosecution, however, seems increasingly unlikely.

The investigation focuses on three attorneys who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration. John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury each played a significant role in writing the torture memos. The Office of Professional Responsibility has been investigating whether their role in crafting the memos violated legal ethics.

According to sources familiar with the investigation's findings, the report will provide a detailed play-by-play of how the memos were produced. It will contain e-mails sent from one Justice Department employee to another and from Justice Department employees to other government officials.

The sources say the report includes referrals to bar associations for possible disciplinary action. That means once-prominent government lawyers could be barred from ever working as attorneys again. However, legal analysts say a recommendation of a criminal investigation seems unlikely.

"You'd have to have some sort of information that those three guys understood that the memo was in itself just garbage," says former U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard. "I'd be looking for something that shows they understood what they wrote was just unsupportable, but they decided they were going to write it anyway." Legal analysts say that is a high bar to prove any criminal wrongdoing.

It has been four years since the inquiry began, and the Justice Department says this is the final phase of the process.

Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich sent a letter to Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) saying Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury had until May 4 "to provide their comments on the draft report," which was finished in December.

The Justice Department has been trying not to make the investigation seem like a witch hunt. Some congressional staffers complain that the effort has gone too far. They are especially critical of the decision to allow Bradbury to participate in the inquiry as acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel.

"How they could have made the decision to let him be part of the official review, not as a target, but as acting head of OLC, boggles the mind," one Judiciary Committee staffer said.

In the letter to Congress, the Justice Department said because of the "significant congressional and public interest" in the investigation, the attorney general decided it was appropriate to give the subjects of the inquiry an "opportunity for review and comment" on the draft report.

The final version of the investigation could be released late this month, according to sources familiar with the Justice Department's plans.

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