Tracing Patterns In Politicized Hiring At Justice Dept.

A Justice Department report finds that aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales illegally discriminated against job applicants who weren't Republican or conservative loyalists. The report concludes that politics illegally influenced the hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges.

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And now to the Bush administration. When Monica Goodling left the Justice Department a year ago, she told members of Congress she crossed the line. Now the Justice Department's inspector general said she and others broke the law. Goodling was the department's White House liaison and senior counselor to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She and others used partisan, political questions to screen applicants for jobs that were supposed to be non-political.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has more.

ARI SHAPIRO: Job interviews with Monica Goodling often strayed to talk of abortion and gay marriage, even when the people were interviewing for non-political jobs in areas that had nothing to do with abortion or gay marriage. Goodling regularly asked job applicants questions like, what is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

When one applicant said he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Goodling frowned and said, but she's pro-choice. According to a report by the Justice Department's inspector general, this was the pattern for hundreds of job interviews.

Mr. MICHAEL BROMWICH (Former Inspector General, Justice Department): It's something that I've never seen before, and I think that's because it hasn't happened before.

SHAPIRO: Michael Bromwich was the department's last inspector general.

Mr. BROMWICH: I don't think anybody should understate how serious a stain this is on the Department of Justice. And for those of us who have served there for many years, it's very painful to see yet another set of examples where a supposedly non-political set of positions were auctioned off on political grounds.

SHAPIRO: A Justice Department report last month showed that political officials at the department illegally screened entry-level lawyers based on their politics. This report says they used the same filter for top career prosecutors and immigration judges.

Goodling kept one experienced counter-terrorism prosecutor out of a job because his wife was a Democrat. The guy who ended up in the job was much less qualified.

She ousted another lawyer over a rumor about the woman's sexual orientation. NPR first broke that story last spring. The woman's name is Leslie Hagen. Her lawyer, Lisa Banks, says Goodling's actions devastated Hagen's career.

Ms. LISA BANKS (Attorney): Every time Ms. Hagen was blocked from getting a position, it turned out that Ms. Goodling was behind it. And all of this was based on rumors and speculation.

SHAPIRO: The report says the most systemic problem came in hiring immigration judges. Kyle Sampson was chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales. Sampson tapped immigration judges based on recommendations from the White House Office of Political Affairs, even though they're supposed to be non-political jobs.

Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association says you can see the difference Sampson made. She describes today's immigration judges as more conservative and less experienced in immigration than 10 years ago.

Ms. CRYSTAL WILLIAMS (American Immigration Lawyers' Association): These appointees are still sitting on the immigration bench. Some of them even have been promoted to the Board of Immigration Appeals. And at the same time, qualified individuals who may not have been as politically acceptable are not sitting on the immigration bench.

SHAPIRO: This report says the illegal political screening process for judges, quote, "caused significant delays in appointing immigration judges at a time when the immigration courts were experiencing an increased workload and a high vacancy rate." Kyle Sampson's lawyer, Brad Berenson, read from a statement.

Mr. BRAD BERENSON (Attorney): (Reading) With respect to immigration judges, he believed in complete good faith that they were not career civil-service positions and that political criteria could be taken into account.

SHAPIRO: Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he's disturbed by the report's findings. He said he wants to make sure, quote, "the conduct described in this report does not occur again at the department." Some former officials think that's not enough.

Ms. JAMIE GORELICK (Former Deputy Attorney General): I'd like to see some accountability here.

SHAPIRO: Jamie Gorelick was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. She says people who were rejected for jobs need to be encouraged to re-apply. But for those who were hired improperly, it's a tougher question. On the one hand, she says, you don't want unqualified political hacks in sensitive positions. On the other hand…

Ms. GORELICK: The vision of going around the department to root out people who were inappropriately hired has a distasteful quality of its own.

SHAPIRO: There may be more painful revelations ahead for the department. This is the second part of a wide-ranging investigation. Still to come, inspector general reports on the civil rights division, U.S. attorney firings and Alberto Gonzales himself. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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Justice Dept.'s Hiring Tactics Illegal, Report Says

Justice IG Report

Monica Goodling i i

hide captionThe Justice Department concludes that Monica Goodling, senior counsel to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrongly considered political and ideological affiliations when hiring.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Monica Goodling

The Justice Department concludes that Monica Goodling, senior counsel to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrongly considered political and ideological affiliations when hiring.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

An internal Justice Department investigation released Monday has concluded that senior officials broke the law by hiring immigration and other officials based on partisan considerations. The report — issued by the inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility — culminates an investigation that lasted more than a year, stemming from the firing of seven U.S. attorneys in one day in 2006.

The report focuses on some of the senior officials in the circle of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Specifically, the report names senior counselor and White House liaison Monica Goodling and Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Both have left the department. Another official, John Nowacki, still works at the Justice Department, and the report recommends disciplining him for knowingly issuing false press statements.

The report concludes that Goodling, Sampson and others broke the law by considering political and ideological affiliations in selecting immigration judges, federal prosecutors and other candidates for jobs that are supposed to be free from politics.

According to the report, Goodling would regularly ask job applicants:

"What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

"Aside from the president, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire."

"Why are you a Republican?"

One applicant told investigators that when he told Goodling he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Goodling frowned and commented, "But she's pro-choice."

According to the report, Goodling knew that what she was doing was wrong. She would give career applicants questionnaires that were only supposed to be for political jobs. If the applicant pointed it out, she would say it was a mistake and take away the questionnaire.

"This is the way you ruin a really stellar government agency," former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who served during the Clinton administration, told NPR. "The credibility of the Department of Justice depends on the American people understanding and believing that the process for administration of justice is completely nonpartisan, and when you undermine that, you grievously harm the American people."

Goodling's attorney, Jeffrey King, released a statement saying: "Each and every one of the core conclusions of the OIG/OPR report released today is consistent with, and indeed derived from, Ms. Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee."

The report says Goodling screened hundreds of job applicants in many different parts of the Justice Department.

One experienced counterterrorism prosecutor did not get a job in Washington because his wife was a Democrat. As a result, the report says, a much less experienced but politically acceptable attorney was assigned to handle counterterrorism issues.

The inspector general also concluded that Goodling ousted Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie A. Hagen from her assignment in Washington and blocked her from other positions based on Goodling's belief that Hagen was a lesbian.

NPR first broke that story last spring. Hagen's lawyer, Lisa Banks, told NPR that Goodling's actions were devastating to Hagen's career. "She's a 20-year prosecutor with an unblemished record of excellent performance [and] departmental awards, and when Monica Goodling and this administration believed that she might be gay, all of a sudden her career was completely derailed," Banks says.

Goodling was not the only one responsible for politicized hiring. According to the report, Kyle Sampson took the lead on hiring immigration judges. He was the attorney general's chief of staff, and he treated immigration judges as political appointments instead of the career jobs that they are, taking recommendations from the White House and other Republican officials.

Crystal Williams, of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association, said the report's findings are not a surprise to those who've been watching the changing profile of the country's immigration courts.

"We've seen some people who perhaps were very helpful in the Florida elections in 2000 and who really have no other qualifications or knowledge of immigration who might be sitting in an immigration judge position now," Williams says.

In a press release, 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 hiring of career department employees," Mukasey said. He also noted that the Justice Department has made many institutional changes to remedy the problems discussed in the report and will make more.

Today's report says Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft were not aware that Goodling, Sampson and others were breaking the law.

One senior Justice official who worked very closely with Goodling reacted to the report this way: "I didn't realize how widespread Monica's activity was, or how she got away with it. She was definitely on a mission. I had no clue."

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