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Could Watchdog Office Probe Taint Justice Inquiry?

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Could Watchdog Office Probe Taint Justice Inquiry?


Could Watchdog Office Probe Taint Justice Inquiry?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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What happens after yesterday's scathing internal report on the Justice Department? It found that the senior members of the department broke the law. The report by Justice's inspector general said that the department became a farm system for young conservative lawyers. In the process, many qualified job applicants were rejected for positions because of suspected liberal leanings.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on what recourse those people now have.

ARI SHAPIRO: Two separate news stories are about to converge. The first is politicized hiring at the Justice Department. The department's inspector general says illegal politicization affected hires from the lowest interns to the top counterterrorism prosecutors. The second story is about the federal government office that was created to address these kinds of problems - the Office of Special Counsel.

Elaine Kaplan was its most recent leader.

ELAINE KAPLAN: This kind of politicization of the career of civil service is squarely within the core jurisdiction of the Office of Special Counsel.

SHAPIRO: Kaplan says if she were still at OSC, she'd be working closely with the Justice Department's inspector general. She'd be looking to represent the people who are passed over for jobs because of their politics.

KAPLAN: I think it looks like a slam dunk in terms of whether there was a violation - massive violations of the civil service laws. You know, the question of what individuals might be entitled to would depend on their individual circumstances.

SHAPIRO: In the past, OSC has won back pay and new jobs for people in situations comparable to this one. Here's the catch: the Office of Special Counsel itself has been in the news a lot lately. FBI agents raided the office in May. They're investigating Scott Bloch, the current special counsel. He is accused of politicizing his office. His deputy just resigned, and the resignation letter accused Bloch of pursuing, quote, "political agendas and personal vendettas," which is exactly what people at the Justice Department were accused of doing.

Elaine Kaplan says for OSC to function effectively, other government agencies need to cooperate with special counsel investigators.

KAPLAN: Now, to the extent that OSC's reputation is tarnished, that it's viewed as pursuing political agendas, there's going to be a resistance.

SHAPIRO: In fact, a year ago, Justice Department investigators publicly told the Office of Special Counsel to back off until they'd finish their investigation. When people at the office do take action, Kaplan says, the public will question their motivations.

KAPLAN: It looks like everyone is discredited, so who can we trust really?

SHAPIRO: The spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel is Jim Mitchell.

JIM MITCHELL: Some people might think that we're working in the middle of a tornado, but we are continuing to do our work, regardless of the controversy, and our office is continuing to function quite effectively.

SHAPIRO: He says they've already met with the Justice Department to talk about an inspector general's report from a few weeks ago that showed politicized hiring for entry-level attorneys.

MITCHELL: And similarly, we expect that we will be working closely with Justice for the same reasons to bring our enforcement powers in on the issues that were identified in this current report.

SHAPIRO: The current report says one attorney was denied several assignments because of a rumor that she was gay. The attorney's name is Leslie Hagen. The Office of Special Counsel has said in the past that they will not pursue complaints from people who were mistreated because of their sexual orientation. So Leslie Hagen's lawyer has skipped OSC and gone straight to the attorney general. Lisa Banks is Hagen's attorney.

LISA BANKS: Her career was completely derailed and that's the wrong that needs to be righted by the attorney general at this point.

SHAPIRO: Banks sent Attorney General Michael Mukasey a letter yesterday. She asked him to, quote, "assign Hagen to an acceptable permanent position." So far, no response. And there's a third course of action: the courts.

Earlier this month, a man who was rejected for a job at the Justice Department filed a lawsuit. Sean Gerlich claims he was rejected for the department's honors program because of his liberal affiliations. He says the department violated his free speech and privacy rights. The suit asks for $100,000 in damages.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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