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Has Fredo Dodged a Bullet?

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Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine has released another report, this one looking into allegations that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales mishandled classified materials. The actual text of the report will be out in a few hours, but in the meantime, the Washington Post has the bottom line: Yes, Fine concludes, Gonzales is guilty of mishandling classified materials. But nothing will come of it. There will be no recommendation of criminal action.

Carrie Johnson reports:

The Justice Department’s inspector general has concluded that Gonzales should have taken precautions to safeguard the materials, related to the government’s warrantless wiretapping program and other eavesdropping initiatives, when he became the nation’s top law enforcement official more than three years ago. Investigators did not find any evidence that the information had been shared with or accessed by people who lacked the proper clearance to review it.

The program, we are told, represents the crown jewel of the government’s surveillance operations—matters so secret that extraordinary measures are necessary to protect against disclosure of any details; the matters with which Gonzales was dealing were the most sensitive aspects of this program. The inquiry concerns notes that Gonzales maintained while he was working in the White House–notes used in connection with that dramatic nighttime visit that Gonzales paid to Attorney General Ashcroft in his hospital room for purposes of securing his signature on an authorizing document.

The Justice Department apparently considers that no harm was done by the violations and that no disciplinary action should be taken. That’s a self-serving conclusion. Curiously, when the violations involve members of the opposition political party, the Justice Department takes a very different approach to the question. Ask former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. He committed the exact offense that Gonzales committed: removing classified documents in violation of protocols governing their storage. In his case, too, no disclosures were made to unauthorized persons and the national security was in no way compromised. Indeed, the papers that Berger mishandled were not really terribly sensitive. So what did the Justice Department do? Berger was prosecuted, convicted of a misdemeanor, and lost his law license.

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