Magazine article Insight on the News

IG Report Details Justice Misdeeds

Magazine article Insight on the News

IG Report Details Justice Misdeeds

Article excerpt

The Department of Justice's inspector general has exposed `serious, substantial and egregious misconduct' in running the agency's international law-enforcement programs.

The report was far more damning than a lot of jaded hands on Capitol Hill had expected. Not so much in terms of the punishment it recommended --critics say they don't fit the crimes--but in the thorough job it did in detailing extensive wrongdoing in the higher reaches of the Justice Department.

Too often federal watchdogs are said to pull their punches -- especially when it comes to writing up their findings. But that wasn't seen by lawmakers as the case with the 415-page report issued in mid-September by the U.S. Department of Justice's acting inspector general (IG), Glenn Fine, who lambasted top officials in the department's international law-enforcement programs for "serious, substantial and egregious misconduct."

Within hours of the report being delivered to the congressional judiciary committees, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, took to the Senate floor to bemoan the IG's devastating conclusions. He was incensed particularly by the finding that a senior Justice official, Robert Bratt -- a onetime favorite and close adviser of Attorney General Janet Reno -- had committed blatant visa fraud when securing U.S. entry documents for his Russian girlfriend and another Russian woman he met while on business in Moscow.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois was appalled, too, deciding quickly that the IG's report about mismanagement and lawbreaking by Criminal Division officials needed a prominent airing. Despite Democratic claims that the matter was "trivial" he elected to hold a full committee hearing on Sept. 21 to examine the results of the three-year probe into allegations first reported by Insight involving Justice programs tasked with the training of foreign police officers and judicial authorities in new and emerging democracies.

Hyde's speed was hardly surprising. In excoriating page after excoriating page the report confirms that top officials at the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) and its sister section, the Office of Prosecutorial Development and Training (OPDAT), played fast and loose with department rules and the law.

On top of the visa fraud, the report cites multiple instances of serious security breaches involving pervasive mishandling of highly classified law-enforcement and intelligence documents. The sharing of secrets with contractors who had not undergone any background checks was condemned by the IG, who also confirmed that there had been sexual favoritism in the hiring and promotion of some employees and contractors. Detailed as well were substantial cost overruns and the breaking of Justice travel rules by Bratt, the head of the international programs until 1997, and his subordinates.

According to IG investigators, Bratt put his "own interests ahead of the interests of the government" and they described him as "recklessly indifferent to the security of the government."

Justice chiefs had been braced for an embarrassing report the moment the IG launched the probe into ICITAP and OPDAT in spring 1997. They tried initially to keep the inquiry under wraps and, according to sources close to the probe, attempted to coax the IG's office into weakening some of the language contained in the report. There also were claims from the targets of the IG that investigators were being overzealous. All were to no avail.

The probe was sparked when an OPDAT consultant tipped off Justice head of security Jerry Rubino to serious security breaches. The whistleblower, former Senate Democratic aide Martin Andersen, claimed that Bratt and his deputies -- Janice Stromsem, Joe Lake, Carey Hoover and Joseph Trincellito -- mishandled secret reports and cables from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), CIA and other federal agencies. …

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