Justice Department Report Finds Political Hiring Bias

An internal report by the Justice Department's own inspector general and ethics office concludes that the department broke the law when it hired candidates based on their political leanings.

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

(Soundbite of music)

MIKE PESCA, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, dot awesome. I'm Mike Pesca.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

And I'm Rachel Martin. You are dot-awesome.

PESCA: Oh, God bless you, Rachel.

MARTIN: It's Wednesday, June 25th, 2008.

PESCA: So are you. Right back at you.

MARTIN: What if we lived in a world where you could really go to a website that was, whatever, yada-yada-yada-dot-awesome? It could happen!

PESCA: You mean, after the dot it doesn't have to be net, com, biz, or...

MARTIN: Or - mm-mm. It could be dot-Pesca.

PESCA: No!

MARTIN: It could.

PESCA: That's crazy.

MARTIN: I think it would be a little narcissistic if you made that, but that's just me.

PESCA: But what if one of my many fans-slash-stalker sites were to...

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PESCA: Or you could do, like, you know, palindromes-dot-tod.

MARTIN: Yes, you could.

PESCA: You could do...

MARTIN: That's cool.

PESCA: Yeah, right?

MARTIN: That's - you're so smart.

PESCA: You could do morsecode-dot-dot-dash.

MARTIN: Yes, you could.

PESCA: Could.

MARTIN: So this is what's happening.

PESCA: It's a whole new world.

MARTIN: All the big, guru people who rule the Internet...

PESCA: Yeah. I'll tell you something...

MARTIN: Who are these people anyway?

PESCA: Gas prices, the Middle East. We can't really solve those, but stuff - cool stuff after the dot? We are on top of that!

MARTIN: All over it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: You've got to deal with the problems you can solve.

MARTIN: Here's what's happening. Net regulators are voting in France tomorrow on whether or not to loosen that whole structure up, so it would open that real estate after the dot to kind of whatever people want. Not whatever, there will be some restrictions. There's a debate about whether triple X can actually be a suffix or not.

PESCA: Why? People hate Vin Diesel?

MARTIN: Yeah, they hate Vin Diesel. That's what it is.

PESCA: That isn't right. On today's show - was it him or was it the Rock? I always get those guys confused. Anyway, on today's show, this is not a hackneyed comedy routine. I am really asking...

(As standup comic) What's the deal with airline prices? They're high, they're low, where's the middle? Who are the ad wizards that came up with that?

Seriously, how do I not make it sound like standup? I get an expert, and we really hash it out. I don't understand airline pricing. I'm going to get to the bottom of it.

MARTIN: Mm-hm. We're going to do a Make Me Care on those Internet suffixes, and get a little more information about that upcoming vote. And also speaking of the Internet and cell phones and all the other stuff that makes it possible for us to stay connected, you know, everyone always says that you can do anything from anywhere these days.

Well, that - with the virtual world being so developed, where you live doesn't really matter so much. We're going to talk to a guy who says, not so fast. Where you live may be more important than you think.

PESCA: Mm-hm. We'll get all today's news headlines in just a minute, but first...

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PESCA: Justice Department officials broke the law. That's according to an internal report by the department's own inspector general and ethics office that was released yesterday.

MARTIN: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston summed up the issue like this.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: If you are a young lawyer trying to get a career job at the Justice Department, there are two ways to get in, either through the honors program, or the summer law-intern program. And according to today's report, ever since the beginning of the Bush administration in 2002, to get through that door, you probably needed to be a Republican.

MARTIN: The problem is that making those hires based on political leanings is a violation of department policy and federal law.

PESCA: The report says young lawyers whose resumes lean to the left were shut out of key job interviews, while those who leaned to the right had a much better shot at getting hired. In 2002, 15 of 18 perceived liberal candidates were rejected, while every single conservative candidate was accepted.

MARTIN: The inspector general said those involved in the screening denied using politics to judge applicants. U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey says the practice was changed in 2007, and says he'll accept all the report's additional recommendations.

PESCA: This is just one of several internal Justice Department investigations that stemmed from the firings of several U.S. attorneys in 2006. Those dismissals were allegedly motivated by politics, and the scandal helped bring down former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

MARTIN: One of those fired U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias, has a new book out. Last week on "The Daily Show," he talked about why he thinks he was let go.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. DAVID IGLESIAS (Former U.S. Attorney, New Mexico): What happened is, they wanted us to file politically oriented prosecutions, instead of just doing what our normal job is, which is enforce federal law. It wasn't that explicit or vulgar, but what they did do is want us to file voter-fraud prosecutions when the evidence wasn't there beyond a reasonable doubt.

PESCA: Meanwhile, one former interim U.S. attorney who did file those voter-fraud prosecutions may be investigated for allegedly lying to Congress about it. Bradley Schlozman has yet to comment on those charges.

MARTIN: As for Iglesias, the evangelical conservative, says he's a bit disillusioned with the Republican Party.

Mr. IGLESIAS: To use a "Star Wars" kind of image, I thought I was working with the Jedi knights and I worked for the Sith lords.

PESCA: Mm. Maybe he was actually let go for being a little too nerdy for the Justice Department. Just a theory. You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's get some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Matt Martinez.

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