Recently we’ve been introduced to what appears to be the Obama administration’s sacrificial lamb for Operation Fast and Furious; Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
One of the interesting questions that arises over how high into the Dept. of Justice knowledge of F&F went concerns the approval of the wiretaps used during some of the F&F operations. For his part, Breuer says that anyone higher than he that had to approve these wiretaps could not have known exactly what F&F was all about because they had no knowledge of the total operation and so could not have put two and two together.
“The role of the reviewers and the role of the deputy in reviewing Title III applications is only one: it is to ensure there is legal sufficiency to make an application to go up on a wire and legal sufficiency to petition a federal judge somewhere in the United States that we believe it is a credible request,” Breuer told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee.
But Andrew McCarthy of the National Review finds this claim problematic. McCarthy seems to think that Breuer’s bosses would have to have known what was going on in depth in order to approve the wiretaps in the first place.
McCarthy calls Breuer’s contentions “absurd.”
That is absurd. The reason federal law requires a sign-off by the Attorney General (or his designee at Main Justice) before a wiretap application may be made to a court is precisely to evaluate the tactics used in the investigation in order to render an informed judgment that electronic eavesdropping is warranted. Most investigative techniques do not require Main Justice approval; the investigations are overseen by supervisors in the relevant district U.S. attorney’s office (and by supervisors at the FBI or other investigative agencies actually doing the investigating). Wiretaps are different — Congress requires Attorney General approval. That is because wiretaps are intrusive, resource-intensive and very expensive, so the law demands that the Justice Department exercise meaningful supervision.
McCarthy says that the DOJ only approves wiretaps after fully vetting and understanding the tactics being used. He feels there is no way that they couldn’t have known all about F&F while at the same time approving the wiretaps.
McCarthy goes on with a more full explanation at his post at NRO but he was an 18-year veteran of the prosecutor’s office retiring during the W. Bush administration, so he has intimate knowledge of the process. He notes that he worked on many wiretap requests, too.
So, is Lanny Breuer dissembling about what his bosses knew and when they knew it? Are we to believe that the Obama DOJ is so incompetent that they aren’t even following decades old procedures in order to make sure their wiretapping is legal and justified? Or should we believe that Breuer is lying about all of it in order to cover for Attny. Gen. Eric Holder?
Time will tell… we hope.
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