COUNTDOWN TO CONSTITUTIONAL MELTDOWN. It's hard to avoid the temptation to begin counting the days in which H. Marshall Jarrett, director of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), manages to remain in that post, especially since his objections to administration intervention in an inquiry he was conducting were made public earlier this week. OPR is the internal affairs office of the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Testifying on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged that President Bush himself, in what the Washington Post's Dan Eggen called "an unprecedented White House intervention" into an OPR investigation, thwarted an inquiry into the role "Justice Department officials played in authorizing and monitoring the controversial [National Security Agency (NSA)] eavesdropping effort, according to officials and government documents." The White House did so by denying security clearances to the OPR attorneys designated to conduct the inquiry.

In a memo released in time for the hearing, Jarrett, a Clinton appointee, asserted, "Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving Executive Branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation."

Jarrett also noted that when the shoe was on the other foot -- when his office the DoJ Criminal Division was charged with investigating the leak that led to the New York Times' expos� on the NSA program, agents and attorneys from DoJ and the FBI had no problem obtaining clearances.