(Also see Wash Post who broke the story, Huff Post for all the responses)
The New York Times July 29, 2008
Report Faults Aides in Hiring at Justice Dept.
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
Senior aides to former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales broke Civil Service laws by using politics to guide their hiring decisions, picking less-qualified applicants for important nonpolitical positions, slowing the hiring process at critical times and damaging the department’s credibility, an internal report concluded on Monday.
A longtime prosecutor who drew rave reviews from his supervisors was passed over for an important counter-terrorism slot because his wife was active in Democratic politics, and a much-less-experienced lawyer with Republican leanings got the job, the report said.
Another prosecutor was rejected for a job in part because she was thought to be a lesbian. And a Republican lawyer received high marks at his job interview because he was found to be sufficiently conservative on the core issues of “god, guns + gays.”
The report, prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general and its internal ethics office, centered on the misconduct of a small circle of aides to Mr. Gonzales, including Monica Goodling, a former top adviser to the attorney general, and Kyle Sampson, his former chief of staff. It also found that White House officials were actively involved in some hiring decisions.
According to the report, officials at the White House first developed a method of searching the Internet to glean the political leanings of a candidate and introduced it at a White House seminar called The Thorough Process of Investigation. Justice Department officials then began using the technique to search for key phrases or words in an applicant’s background, like “abortion,” “homosexual,” “Florida recount,” or “guns.”
The report focused its sharpest criticism on Ms. Goodling, a young lawyer from the Republican National Committee who rose quickly in the department to become a top aide to Mr. Gonzales.
Before a crush of cameras, Ms. Goodling testified before Congress in May 2007 at the height of the uproar over the firings of nine United States attorneys, admitting that she may have “crossed the line” at times in using politics in hiring decisions. But Monday’s report catalogued an effort much more systematic than Ms. Goodling described, leading some Democrats to charge that she, Mr. Sampson and Mr. Gonzales should be investigated for perjury.
Last month, the inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, and the Office of Professional Responsibility released a separate report that found a similar pattern of politicized hiring at the Justice Department in reviewing applications from young lawyers for the honors and intern programs.
The report released on Monday goes much further in documenting pervasive evidence of political hiring for some of the department’s most senior career positions, including immigration judges, assistant United States attorneys and even senior counterterrorism positions.
The pattern appeared most damaging in the hiring of immigration judges, as vacancies were allowed to go unfilled — and a backlog of deportation cases grew — while Mr. Gonzales’s aides looked for conservative lawyers to fill what were supposed to be apolitical jobs.
The inspector general’s investigation found that Ms. Goodling and a handful of other senior aides to Mr. Gonzales used in-person interviews and Internet searches to screen out candidates who might be too liberal and identify candidates seen as pro-Republican and supportive of President Bush.
One senior official, in describing Ms. Goodling’s strategy, likened it to a “farm system” used to fill temporary vacancies at the Justice Department with Republicans who could then move up.
The actions of Ms. Goodling, Mr. Sampson and other aides constituted official misconduct in violation of federal Civil Service laws and the department’s internal policies, the report concluded. Those who violated civil service laws cannot generally be prosecuted under criminal law.
All but one of the Justice Department officials cited in the report for misconduct have now left the department, meaning they are not subject to internal discipline. The report recommended that the Justice Department consider disciplinary action against the only remaining official, John Nowacki, who investigators found had drafted a statement to the news media concealing Ms. Goodling’s misconduct even though he knew the statement to be inaccurate.
Ms. Goodling and other lawyers named in the report could face disciplinary action from their local bar associations, including the possible loss of their bar licenses, officials said.
When interviewed by the inspector general, Mr. Gonzales said he was not aware that Ms. Goodling and other aides were using political criteria in their decisions for career positions. The report did not offer any direct evidence to contradict that assertion. Mr. Gonzales resigned last summer in the face of mounting accusations from Congressional Democrats that politics had corrupted the department.
His successor, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, said in a statement on Monday after the report’s release that he was “of course disturbed by their findings that improper political considerations were used in hiring decisions relating to some career employees.” His statement included a vow to prevent such actions from happening again.
A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said of Monday’s report, “There really is not a lot new here.”
A lawyer for Ms. Goodling, John Dowd, said he had not had time to read through the report in detail and declined to comment on specific findings. Mr. Dowd rejected the suggestion from top Democrats, including Representative John Conyers of Michigan, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, that the Justice Department investigate possible perjury charges against Ms. Goodling. “I think it’s outrageous what he said,” Mr. Dowd said. “There was no perjury here.”
Mr. Sampson’s lawyer, Bradford Berenson, said that the report’s substance was consistent with what his client told Congress and that Mr. Sampson’s own role in using political considerations in hiring immigration lawyers stemmed from uncertainty about the law.
In her position as White House liaison for the Justice Department, Ms. Goodling was involved in hiring lawyers for both political appointments and nonpolitical career positions. Regardless of the type of position, the report said, Ms. Goodling would run applicants at interviews through the same batch of questions, asking them about their political philosophies, why they wanted to serve President Bush, and who, aside from Mr. Bush, they admired as public servants, the report found. Sometimes, Ms. Goodling would ask: “Why are you a Republican?”
In Ms. Goodling’s notes from the interviews, she would give a shorthand assessment of how well they fared on threshold political issues, as in the notation for one candidate who she wrote was aptly conservative on “god, guns + gays.”
In forwarding a résumé in 2006 from a lawyer who was working for the Federalist Society, Ms. Goodling sent an e-mail message to the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Bradbury, saying: “Am attaching a résumé for a young, conservative female lawyer.” Ms. Goodling interviewed the woman and wrote in her notes such phrases as “pro-God in public life,” and “pro-marriage, anti-civil union.” The woman was eventually hired as a career prosecutor.
Such consideration of political views would have been allowed in hiring candidates to political appointments, which make up a tiny part of the Justice Department’s 110,000 employees, but it was clearly banned under both Civil Service law and the Justice Department’s internal policies, the inspector general said.
The problem appears to have predated Ms. Goodling’s rise at the Justice Department. In one episode cited in 2004, when John Ashcroft was attorney general, Ms. Goodling’s predecessor as White House liaison, Susan Richmond, blocked the deputy attorney general’s office from extending the stint of one lawyer because she felt that the job should be filled by a political appointee loyal to Mr. Bush, the report said.