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Report: Ex-DOJ Officials Improperly Politicized Hiring, Broke LawReport finds political hiring was most pronounced in the case of immigration judges
A new report by the Justice Department's watchdog offices concludes former White House liaison Monica Goodling and former Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson violated federal law and DOJ policy by politicizing the hiring of career lawyers and immigration judges. In one such instance, Goodling blocked an expert candiate for a counterterrorism post, apparently due to his wife's Democratic ties. The post instead went to someone with no experience in that area. Former AG Alberto Gonzales says the report vindicates him.
Legal Times2008-07-29 12:00:00 AM
Aides to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales violated federal law and Justice Department policy by using a political litmus test when hiring career lawyers and immigration judges, according to a report by the department's two watchdog offices.
The Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility found that former White House liaison Monica Goodling and former Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson measured job candidates by their political affiliations. Goodling's and Sampson's actions amounted to illegal misconduct, the report says.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he was "disturbed" by the report's 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. "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."
According to the report, Gonzales told investigators he was not aware of what his top aides were doing. Today, the former attorney general greeted the report as vindication.
"I am gratified that the efforts I initiated to address this issue have now been affirmed and augmented by this report," Gonzales said in a statement issued through his spokesman, Robert Bork Jr.
The 140-page report -- the result of a yearlong probe -- comes down especially hard on Goodling. The report, which is in fact titled "An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General," says she "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."
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the report's revelations show that Goodling, Sampson and Gonzales may have lied in their testimony to the committee last year and he is considering a criminal referral for perjury.
Goodling's lawyer, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld's John Dowd, said the report agreed with Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last summer, in which she admitted that she had "crossed the line."
"In light of Ms. Goodling's exceptional candor and cooperation, it is outrageous for Chairman Conyers and Representative [Linda] Sanchez to suggest that she 'may have lied to the Congress,'" Dowd said.
The report goes much deeper than Goodling's testimony, however, enumerating several instances in which politics appeared to trump all else.
In one instance in 2006, Goodling tried to prevent interim U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor of the District of Columbia from hiring an Assistant U.S. Attorney with a civil rights background.
The candidate was a graduate of Howard University School of Law, where he was director of the Civil Rights Symposium, and a seven-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency's Civil Rights Office, the report says.
Goodling said the candidate gave her pause because he appeared to be a "liberal Democrat." Taylor told her the candidate's politics were irrelevant and called Sampson to complain, the report says. Goodling eventually approved the hire, after Sampson intervened.
The report also cites evidence that Goodling pushed political appointees for career spots, while blocking from certain details career attorneys who struck her as too liberal.
In October 2006, Goodling turned away a veteran anti-terrorism prosecutor who had applied for a counterterrorism detail in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. The candidate had received the attorney general's Award for Exceptional Service for successfully prosecuting a high-profile terrorism case, and top officials in the executive office told Goodling he was "head and shoulders above" the other applicants, the report says.
But the prosecutor's wife was an elected Democrat, served as vice chair of her local Democratic Party, and had run several Democratic congressional campaigns.
Goodling refused to sign off on his application over the protests of the senior managers in the executive office, the report says. The detail was eventually filled by a registered Republican recommended by Goodling. He had no counterterrorism experience. The report cites nine other examples of Goodling shutting applicants out of details based on political considerations.
Political hiring was most pronounced in the case of immigration judges, who hold career positions covered by civil service laws, the report says. In 2004, Sampson moved hiring responsibility from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the nation's immigration courts, to the attorney general's staff. Before 2004, three-member panels of assistant chief immigration judges reviewed applications and voted on which applicants to interview. They then forwarded their recommendations to the head of the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Under Sampson's plan, the White House recommended most of the immigration judge candidates, but "Republican sources" submitted names to Sampson, Goodling and Goodling's predecessor as liaison, Jan Williams.
"All three of these officials inappropriately considered political or ideological affiliations in evaluating and selecting candidates for IJ positions," the report says.
Goodling researched the candidates' political contributions and voter registration records, trolled for evidence of their political affiliations on the Internet, and asked candidates questions about their politics in interviews, the report says.
Sampson told investigators that lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and the Executive Office for Immigration Review advised him that the positions were exempt from civil service laws. The report concludes that he was never given such advice. It also notes that Sampson's system created chronic delays in filing vacant judgeships.
In April 2007, Gonzales returned responsibility for hiring immigration judges to the Executive Office for Immigration Review after a candidate sued for discrimination, laying bare Sampson's hiring system.
Gonzales' lawyer, George Terwilliger III of White & Case, says the report clears the former attorney general of wrongdoing. "When he became aware of the problems, he moved to correct them," Terwilliger says. "It's simply not possible for any Cabinet officer to be completely aware of and micromanage the activities of staffers, particularly where they don't inform him of what's going on."