Alberto Gonzales, Chuck Schumer, Department of Justice, Document Review, House Judiciary Committee, Politics, Screw-Ups, Senate Judiciary Committee

Earth to DOJ: Document Production Isn’t That Hard

Alberto Gonzales 4 Attorney General Alberto R Gonzales Above the Law blog.gifWe’ve been doing a lot of Biglaw coverage lately. But since Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is being raked over the coals as we type, in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, let’s take a timely detour into the U.S. Department of Justice.
The DOJ isn’t looking terribly competent right now. And this latest story won’t burnish their reputation. From a tipster:

As you know, the Justice Department produced a number of documents to Congress, concerning the controversial U.S. Attorney firings. These document productions have not been huge — maybe just a few thousand pages. Nothing like what you see in major commercial litigation.

One such document production showed up on Capitol Hill, in four sets: two sets for the Senate Judiciary Committee (Democrats and Republicans), and two sets for the House Judiciary Committee (Democrats and Republicans). The production arrived on a weekday evening.

A Republican staffer immediately started looking through the production. The staffer noticed that the produced documents didn’t have Bates stamps on them. Oops. Guess the DOJ forgot to have them stamped — a screw-up, although not a cardinal sin.

A few pages later, the staffer noticed something else, on a document with redactions on it. There was redacting tape that was STILL ON THE DOCUMENT. One could access the redacted, privileged material simply by peeling off the tape.

Holy crap. Instead of sending over Bates-stamped photocopies, the DOJ had produced its ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS to the Congress.

Nice. Apparently the Justice Department is less competent than a second-year litigation associate: they can’t do a proper document production.
It gets worse. More after the jump.

Here’s the rest of the story:

Fortunately for the DOJ, these original documents had wound up in friendly (Republican) hands. The staffer immediately stopped reviewing the documents, then called the relevant contact at the Justice Department, to inform him of the mistake.

How did the DOJ official react? You’d expect him to react with gratitude, thankful to the Hill staffer for catching the error, stopping the review, and contacting the Department immediately.

But no. The Justice Department official actually expressed his ANNOYANCE at the Hill staffer. He was already on his way home; he had taken the Hill staffer’s call on his cell phone, while driving in his car. And now he would have to take a detour, to swing by Capitol Hill, and pick up the original documents. How inconvenient!

Wow. This DOJ official was saved from a near disaster; but instead of expressing thanks, he expressed only irritation.
And we don’t think we’re exaggerating in calling it “a near disaster.” The Democrats have been hounding the DOJ for original documents — i.e., unredacted versions of previously produced documents. And if these original documents, including ones with redacting tape on them, had been produced to the Dems, things would have taken a very different turn.
Senator Chuck Schumer would have grabbed those redacted documents — ASAP. And taken them with him into a very steamy bathroom…

(hidden for your protection)

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