JUDGE ORDERS BUSH ADMINISTRATION TO COME CLEAN ON DOMESTIC WIRETAPPING IN TURKMEN V. ASHCROFT
Judge Orders John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller and Administration Attorneys to Admit or Deny Knowledge of Surveillance of Confidential Attorney-Client Communications; Ruling Rejects Bush Administration’s Secrecy Claims as “Hard to Fathom”; Center for Constitutional Rights Hails Order as “First Crack” in Bush’s Surveillance Policies
New York - May 31, 2006 - Last night a U.S. Magistrate Judge ordered the Bush Administration to disclose any knowledge of government surveillance of confidential attorney client communications in Turkmen v Ashcroft, a lawsuit on behalf of people detained after the September 11th attacks brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and attorneys from Covington & Burlington. The ruling orders John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller and government attorneys to admit or deny whether they are "aware of any monitoring or surveillance of communications" between CCR attorneys and their clients in the case. For months, the Bush Administration has vigorously fought to avoid stating whether or not it has access to surveillance of CCR attorneys in the case.
"The court is ordering the Bush Administration to say whether or not it is spying on our attorneys, which the administration has refused to do for months. The American legal system provides the right to an attorney without government interference or surveillance, so it is disturbing that the administration didn't want to say whether it has respected that right. Now Mr. Ashcroft has to come clean, and we are eager to hear his answers and move forward with our case against his detention policies," said Bill Goodman, CCR Legal Director. "This ruling is the first crack in the granite wall of President Bush's secret surveillance policies," he added.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold denied the government's motion for reconsideration and gave the government three weeks to comply with the order. Judge Gold ordered that disclosure of any knowledge of surveillance is required of "likely witnesses" -- which would include defendants John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller -- and members of the government trial team, including all attorneys, supervisors, support staff and people "exercising decision-making authority" to defend the administration's position. The order also requires the government to state whether any information from surveillance will be "used in any way by the United States in its defense of these cases and, if so, identify the information that will be so used."
Judge Gold noted in his conclusion that if "a witness or member of the trial team with knowledge of monitoring or surveillance is identified, it may be sensible to have the ensuing investigation conducted by an isolated team of attorneys to avoid further taint."
The ruling also rejected the administration's claim that answering surveillance questions would somehow disclose classified information, a claim that Judge Gold dismissed as "hard to fathom." He also observed: "The government has failed to present any specific facts or information in support of its contention that providing the information sought by plaintiffs would result in the disclosure of classified information. In any event, it is difficult to imagine what relevant facts remain secret but would be revealed if the information at issue were provided."
The order comes as the Bush Administration is under increasing scrutiny for domestic spying. CCR is challenging the administration's NSA program for illegally spying on CCR attorneys in a separate case, CCR v. Bush, and last week the Justice Department asked a court to completely dismiss that case without trial on the basis of the "state secrets privilege." The administration is using the same privilege to try to preempt other cases challenging domestic spying.