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Report clears Bush officials of misconduct over 'torture' memos

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
John Yoo (shown testifying in 2008) was one of the lawyers cleared of professional misconduct by the report.
John Yoo (shown testifying in 2008) was one of the lawyers cleared of professional misconduct by the report.
  • DoJ: No professional misconduct by lawyers who wrote "torture memos"
  • Conclusion reversed recommended referral of lawyers for disbarment
  • John Yoo and Jay Bybee developed legal guidance on enhanced interrogation
  • Also cleared was Steven Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel

Washington (CNN) -- Bush administration lawyers who wrote "torture" memos have been cleared of allegations of professional misconduct after a Justice Department internal investigation, which recommends no legal consequences for their actions.

The report by the Justice Department concludes the high-ranking lawyers who developed controversial legal guidance on waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques may have exercised poor judgment, but not professional misconduct.

The conclusion resulted from a decision by top career Justice Department executive David Margolis to reverse a recommendation of investigators that found the two lawyers' legal memos did constitute professional misconduct. That tentative conclusion, which was overruled by Margolis, said the lawyers should be referred to their state bar associations for potential disbarment.

But in the final report, the examination of the legal guidance written by Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee found they did not constitute a professional breach that could have led to state disbarment.

The report by the Justice Department ethics office, called the Office of Professional Responsibility, also examined and cleared attorney Steven Bradbury. He headed the Office of Legal Counsel, which provided legal guidance to the executive branch during President George W. Bush's second term.

The often-delayed release of the report came late Friday after it was sent to lawmakers on the House and Senate Judiciary committees, who made the findings public.

In addition to the content itself, the constantly delayed release of the politically sensitive report had become an issue. Issuance of the report was repeatedly postponed for more than a year, prompting lawmakers and civil liberties groups to press for publication of the investigation's findings. In November, Holder told Congress the report would be made public "by the end of the month."

Reaction to the Justice Department investigation largely fell along party lines, with liberal Democrats unhappy with the conclusions, and highlighting criticism of the Bush Administration lawyers.

"While the report concludes the lawyers did not breach their minimal professional obligations, I certainly hold top lawyers at the Justice Department] to a higher standard than that, as all Americans should," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan.

Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee focused on the lawyers' "poor judgments," and said, "Today's report makes plain that those memos were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound."

Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers applauded the decision not to recommend action against the Bush administration officials who proposed enhanced interrogation techniques.

"It is important that future government lawyers know that their efforts to protect Americans will not be criminalized by future administrations," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

"We know that the decision of these attorneys to approve enhanced interrogation tactics in the wake of 9/11 saved lives," he declared.