Justice report faults illegal use of politics in hiring federal prosecutors, judges

RAW STORY | A new Justice Department report concludes that politics illegally influenced the hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges, and largely lays the blame on top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Monday’s report singles out the department’s former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, for violating federal law and Justice Department policy by discriminating against job applicants who weren’t Republican or conservative loyalists.

The full 146-page Justice Department report is available here (.pdf)

It is not improper to consider political or ideological affiliations in making hiring decisions for political positions. However, both Department policy and federal law prohibit discrimination in hiring for career positions on the basis of political affiliations.

Our investigation found that Goodling improperly subjected candidates for certain career positions to the same politically based evaluation she used on candidates for political positions, in violation of federal law and Department policy.

The report does not indicate whether Goodling or former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson could face any charges. None of those involved in the discriminatory hiring still work at Justice, meaning they will avoid any department penalties.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said he is debating whether to file perjury charges against the reports’ implicated officials, who may have lied to Congress during investigations of the Justice Department’s politicization.

“Today’s report describes ‘systematic’ violations of federal law by several former leaders of the Department of Justice,” Conyers said in a news release. “Apparently, the political screening was so pervasive that even qualified Republican applicants were rejected from Department positions because they were ‘not Republican enough’ for Monica Goodling and others. The report also makes clear that the cost to our nation of these apparent crimes was severe, as qualified individuals were rejected for key positions in the fight against terrorism and other critical Department jobs for no reason other than political whim. The Report also indicates that Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson, and Alberto Gonzales may have lied to the Congress about these matters. I have directed my staff to closely review this matter and to consider whether a criminal referral for perjury is needed.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy used the report to slam the White House.

“Rather than strengthening our national security, the Department of Justice appears to have bent to the political will of the administration,” the Vermont Democrat said in a release sent to reporters Monday morning. “Further, the report reveals that the ‘principal source’ for politically vetted candidates considered for important positions as immigration judges was the White House— a clear indication of the untoward political influence of the Bush administration on traditionally non-political appointments.”

Justice investigators said that Goodling, at least, may lose her license to practice law as a result of the findings.

The report said Gonzales was largely unaware of the hiring decisions by two of his most trusted aides. It also said his aides’ decisions weeded out Democrats and that Goodling also rejected at least one job applicant who was a lesbian.

Leahy accused the political influence of stretching higher into the administration and he suggested top officials were simply trying to pin the blame on underlings.

“Like some in the administration who would place blame for the actions at Abu Ghraib solely onto the shoulders of a few bad apples, the Attorney General has tried to dismiss the Inspector General’s first report on politicization issued last month as documenting the actions of just a few bad apples,” Leahy said. “But it was obvious from that first report, and becomes more so with this second joint IG/OPR report, that the problems of politicization at the Department are rooted deeper than that. In this report, we once again see that the Bush administration has allowed politics to affect and infect the nation’s chief law enforcement agency’s priorities.”

The report marks the culmination of a yearlong investigation by Justice’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility into whether Republican politics were driving hiring polices at the nation’s premier law enforcement agency that is expected to be above partisan politics. The department’s inspector general is scheduled to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The investigation is one of several that examine accusations of White House political meddling within the Justice Department. Those accusations were initially driven by the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in late 2006 and culminated with Gonzales’ resignation under fire as attorney general last September.

The man who replaced Gonzales, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, said he is “of course disturbed” by the findings.

“I have said many times, both to members of the public and to department employees, it is neither permissible nor acceptable to consider political affiliations in the hiring of career department employees,” Mukasey said in a statement shortly after the report was released Monday morning. “And I have acted, and will continue to act, to ensure that my words are translated into reality so that the conduct described in this report does not occur again at the department.”

With wire reports