Legal Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama has been having trouble with one small transition demand -- getting secret legal memos from the Justice Department.
A senior Justice Department official said Tuesday that "99.8 percent" of the department's work with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has gone smoothly. The 0.2 percent snag: The department has reservations about granting the team's request to review classified legal opinions related to secret CIA and National Security Agency programs.
In a roundtable discussion with reporters last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey declined to discuss specific requests made by transition staff regarding opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, the arm of the Justice Department that provides legal advice to the president and all other executive branch agencies.
The Justice official said the dispute over access to the NSA and CIA opinions has made its way up to Williams & Connolly's Gregory Craig, who earlier this month was named to be Obama's White House counsel. Craig was expected to meet with current White House counsel Fred Fielding to discuss the issue, the official said. It's unclear whether such a meeting has already taken place. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Justice official said the department was reluctant to provide the opinions to Obama's team without permission from the two intelligence agencies whose activities they address. At the roundtable, Mukasey said OLC opinions are issued at the request of other agencies with their "own equity or interest in the information."
The opinions, some of which have been released to Congress in redacted form, contain the legal rationale of the NSA's warrantless spying program and the CIA's detention and interrogation policies, among other intelligence initiatives.
In 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration issued secret memos explicitly endorsing CIA use of torture. Dick Cheney's office hid memos approving warrantless wiretapping from the White House chief of staff. A judge has ordered the administration to produce the wiretap memos.