One of America’s most prominent federal prosecutors sought changes to the 1995 “wall” memo authored by then-Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, but most of the concerns expressed by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White over the barriers erected between criminal and counter-intelligence investigations were rejected.
Gorelick’s “wall” memo was the subject of an April 26 CNSNews.com report, which quoted four sources as saying the memo erected barriers to intelligence-sharing between the FBI and intelligence agencies, and impeded the investigation of alleged Chinese espionage and illegal campaign donations to then-President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.
According to documents obtained by CNSNews.com, White, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, spelled out her concerns shortly after Gorelick wrote the memo establishing the new guidelines for federal investigations.
The reply that followed came from Michael Vatis, deputy director of the Executive Office of National Security, with Gorelick signing off on Vatis’ language.
White was concerned that Gorelick’s new guidelines for investigations had made it too complicated for the FBI to contact the U.S. attorney’s office and launch a probe of suspicious activity. White suggested that only the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Department of Justice needed to approve such an investigation, and not the department’s criminal division.
However, the Vatis/Gorelick memo offered a blunt reply.
“I recommend rejecting this change,” the June 19, 1995 document stated. “[A] USAO [U.S. attorney’s office] should not be notified of a national security investigation — particularly one that has not yet developed into a criminal case — without the approval of the AAG [assistant attorney general], Criminal Division.”
The Vatis/Gorelick memo also addressed White’s reservations over how the new investigative guidelines would impact a probe under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). White contended that once the Justice Department’s Criminal Division had decided that criminal law enforcement concerns existed in a FISA investigation, the appropriate U.S. attorney should be contacted.
Vatis rejected this notion as well.
“Notifying the USAO as soon as law enforcement concerns exist — but before Crim. thinks that the investigation should ‘go criminal’ — is simply too early,” the document stated.
The current U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, recently de-classified the original Gorelick memo that established the new investigative guidelines. He did so shortly before testifying in front of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, calling the Gorelick memo “the single greatest structural cause for September 11.”
The June 19, 1995 memo from Vatis/Gorelick was included in a batch of documents released Wednesday by the Justice Department in response to a request by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.
The senators, in a joint statement, asked the department to “provide key Gorelick documents” in response to the Sept. 11 commission’s “failure to hear testimony from a key Clinton administration Justice Department official [Gorelick], preventing the Congress from receiving a full accounting of intelligence and enforcement procedures that led to the tragic attacks.”
A separate statement, released by Cornyn’s office late Wednesday, charged that the newly released documents “substantially discredit former Deputy Attorney General — and current 9/11 Commission member — Jamie Gorelick’s claims of limited involvement in the promulgation of ‘the wall’ separating counterintelligence and law enforcement agencies.
“Specifically, the documents show that she was substantially involved in the development of the information-sharing policy and contradicts statements that the department’s policies under the Clinton-Reno administration enhanced, rather than restricted, such vital information sharing,” Cornyn stated.
“These documents show what I’ve said all along: Commissioner Gorelick has special knowledge of the facts and circumstances leading up to the erection and buttressing of ‘that wall’ that, before the enactment of the Patriot Act, was the primary obstacle to the sharing of communications between law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Cornyn’s statement continued.
Gorelick’s membership on the 9/11 commission has become controversial considering that she also worked in the Clinton administration’s Justice Department. Many Republicans in Congress have called for her to testify before the commission, a request the commission’s chairman has rejected.
“This is a person with knowledge of relevant facts. Either the Commission wants the whole truth, or it does not,” Cornyn stated.
“If it does, she should appear in public testimony so that the families of the victims, the American people and the Congress can have a full and complete picture of what led to the failures of 9/11,” Cornyn added.