DOJ Civil Rights Head Grilled on Political Hires

The Civil Rights division of the Justice Department has been under fire from congressional Democrats for allegedly hiring career employees according to their political affiliations. Division head Wan Kim testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And the House Judiciary Committee heard more testimony on alleged politicization of other aspects of the Justice Department.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There was another round of congressional inquiries yesterday on controversies at the Justice Department. Those inquiries included dismissals of U.S. attorneys, politics in the civil rights division, and domestic spying.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Assistant Attorney General Wan Kim, head of the Civil Rights Division, retreated into bureaucratese under questioning from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Then Senator Edward Kennedy asked about Bradley Schlozman, former chief of the division's section on voting rights, who had moved out three minority female lawyers.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Schlozman reportedly said he's transferring them to make room for some good Americans. What did that say to you?

Mr. WAN KIM (Assistant Attorney General): Senator, at a very minimum, those were intemperate and inopportune remarks. I mean I think it's fair to say that they caused me some concern.

OVERBY: As for the firings of the U.S. attorneys, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has said he was barely in the loop. A former political operative of justice, Monica Goodling, has contradicted that account. Yesterday, at the House Judiciary Committee, Massachusetts Democrat William Delahunt let McNulty get the last word.

Representative WILLIAM DELAHUNT (Democrat, Massachusetts): Did Attorney General Gonzales call you in and say, Paul, we've got a list of United States attorneys. Did you talk to him about this?

Mr. PAUL McNULTY (Deputy Attorney General): Not before the phone calls were made on December 7th.

OVERBY: And on domestic spying, former Attorney General John Ashcroft told another House panel that Justice and the White House disagreed sharply on the program's legality. The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas in its probe of domestic spying.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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