By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — Large batches of e-mail records from the Justice Department lawyers who worked on the 2002 legal opinions justifying the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation techniques are missing, and the Justice Department told lawmakers Friday that it would try to trace the disappearance.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the panel, angrily demanded to know what had happened to the e-mail files, and he noted that the destruction of government records, including official e-mail messages, was a criminal offense. He said the records gap called into question the completeness of the department’s internal reviews of the work done by the lawyers in the Bush years.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which spent more than four years investigating the handling of the legal opinions about interrogation policies after the Sept. 11 attacks, pushed to get access to a range of e-mail records and other internal documents from the Justice Department to aid in its investigation.
But it discovered that many e-mail messages to and from John C. Yoo, who wrote the bulk of the legal opinions for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were missing. The office disclosed the missing messages in a footnote to its final report, which was released last week.
“We were told that most of Yoo’s e-mail records had been deleted and were not recoverable,” officials from the Office of Professional Responsibility said in the footnote.
Also deleted were a month’s worth of e-mail files from the summer of 2002 for Patrick Philbin, another Justice Department lawyer who worked on the interrogation opinions. Those missing e-mail messages came during a period when two of the critical interrogation memos were being prepared.