- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

COLUMN:

Concerns in Congress about the Justice Department being too “politicized” showed no signs of easing during a Senate hearing last week.

The Justice Department is supposed to operate free of any political preferences by enforcing the laws as they are written.

In recent months, the Justice Department has fallen under suspicions that it is allowing pro-Bush administration policies influence how it hires personnel, decides who gets prosecuted and interprets laws that are supposed to forbid torture.

Although top Justice Department officials are appointed by the president, they represent the judicial branch of government.

“These are very important issues on separation of powers,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department.

Several of the senators said they did not believe Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey adequately addressed their concerns during his testimony.

“I find these answers very disappointing,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat.

A top concern among Democrats on the committee was a recent Justice Department inspector general’s report that said politics influenced hiring and firing decisions in 2006.

Some liberal job applicants with good qualifications and academic records were passed over as career attorneys and summer interns in favor of more conservative applicants who were not as well-qualified, but who supported Bush administration policies, the inspector general’s report said.

In addition, nine federal prosecutors were fired for what Democrats say were political motives.

The personnel controversy played a role in the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Mr. Mukasey is President Bush’s third attorney general. He was appointed eight months ago.

He told the Senate that he has strived to ensure political policy no longer controls personnel or prosecution decisions. Among his new measures is a rule that allows only career attorneys to hire new lawyers.

Several of the senators remained skeptical, including Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat.

“You indicated that you have worked to see to it that the department is not politicized,” Mr. Biden said. “Do you find it had politicized when you arrived?”

Mr. Mukasey responded, “What I found were enormously dedicated people who were very committed to my succeeding.”

He blamed any concerns about political influence over the department on four employees, two of whom are no longer employed there. He said the other two merely failed to adequately respond to the allegations.

“Did you find that some of those enormously dedicated people engaged in politicizing the administration of justice,” Mr. Biden asked. “That was my question.”

“No,” Mr. Mukasey said. “Otherwise I would not characterize them as enormously dedicated.”

Mr. Schumer expressed concern about whether the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was politically motivated.

Siegelman is a Democrat who was accused by the Justice Department of accepting an illegal campaign contribution.

“Although Siegelman was convicted, witnesses have credibly contended his case was politically motivated and selectively prosecuted,” Mr. Schumer said. “If the allegations are true, it means the Department of Justice behaved like a banana republic.”

Other senators said they were disappointed Bush administration concluded that aggressive - and perhaps painful - interrogation techniques on Guantanamo detainees did not violate U.S. law.

Above the Law runs on Mondays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide