WASHINGTON – A U.S. Justice Department report scolds former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for mishandling highly classified documents about an eavesdropping program and interrogating terror detainees — two of the Bush administration's most sensitive counter-terror efforts.
The report says Gonzales failed to store the documents in proper secure facilities and at one point took them home. The report released Tuesday also says he stored them in his briefcase because he did not know the combination to the safe at his house.
Gonzales, a close friend and long-time adviser to President George W. Bush, resigned under fire last year in a dispute over the dismissal of eight U.S. prosecutors. Democrats charged the dismissals were politically motivated.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine referred the security breach to the department's National Security Division. But the reports says prosecutors there declined to bring charges against Gonzales.
"Our investigation concluded that Gonzales mishandled classified materials regarding two highly sensitive compartmented programs," Fine's report concluded. It said Gonzales took some of the documents home "and stored them there for an indeterminate period of time."
Additionally, Gonzales kept some of the documents in a safe in his office that was accessed by several employees who "lacked the necessary security clearances for this information," the report concludes.
In doing so, Gonzales violated Justice Department security requirements and procedures for handling classified materials, the report says.
Responding, Gonzales' attorneys say the former attorney general did not mishandle the classified data on purpose. Rather, he apparently was forgetful or unaware of the proper way to handle the top secret papers.
In a memo responding to the Justice report, Gonzales attorney George Terwilliger also says there is no evidence the security breach resulted in secret information being viewed or otherwise exposed to anyone who was not authorized. The memo was first reported Monday by The Associated Press.
In a statement Tuesday, Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said national security prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Gonzales after an internal review earlier that began this year.
"After conducting a thorough review of the matter and consulting with senior career officials inside and outside of the division, the (National Security Division) ultimately determined that prosecution should be declined," Boyd said.