As a transition team for the Obama administration begins work on a Justice Department overhaul, the key question is where to begin, says the Washington Post. Political considerations affected every crevice of the department during the Bush years, from the summer intern program to the dispensing of legal advice about detainee interrogations. Although Michael B. Mukasey, who took charge of the department in the winter, has drawn praise for separating politics from law enforcement, restoring public confidence in the department will be central, lawmakers and former government officials say.
Topping the list of concerns is the Office of Legal Counsel, a once-obscure operation whose advice guides some of the government’s most sensitive and controversial policies, from domestic wiretapping to the appropriateness of handing out public funding to religious groups. Many of the OLC’s memos on interrogation and warrantless eavesdropping remain secret. Democrats say they expect to find fresh surprises when they open the legal vault. Another critical, early judgment must be made about how to allocate scarce resources without shortchanging national security. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, more than 7 percent of the department’s budget shifted to terrorism, away from drug trafficking, organized crime and white-collar misdeeds.