A Justice Department official confirms Newsweek's report that Attorney General Eric Holder is leaning towards appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Bush administration-era torture and interrogation policies. Newsweek's Dan Klaidman cites four departmental sources, and Holder himself, as admitting that, after a review of the programs, Holder began to consider an investigation, even though President Obama and Obama's top aides oppose any sanctioned look back at the policies of his predecessor. When Obama asked Holder, a longtime friend, to become attorney general, Holder extracted a promise -- perhaps extracted is too tough of a term because Obama readily agreed -- that the White House would not interfere with the Department's decisions about whether to launch investigations, according to two people with knowledge of the encounter. When it comes to setting and refining judicial policy, the White House counsel's office plays the lead role. But Holder and his deputies get to decide whom to prosecute.
The Newsweek article flatteringly portrays Holder as a "renegade" whose decision-making process is influenced by his pursuit of justice, Obama's agenda be damned. It reveals some tension between the Justice Department and the White House, although my sense is that the tension is less acute than the article portrays and more institutional than personal (One sore point: the White House counsel's office was notified about the Obama administration's first assertion of the state secrets privilege, but somebody forgot to inform the president. Such confusion in the first few weeks of an administration would be news if evidence for it were absent.)