- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Justice Department officials two years ago had no better candidate for a counterterrorism job than a widely respected prosecutor who handled several terrorism cases and had received the department’s highest honor, according to a report released Monday.

But the report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that the prosecutor’s 2006 candidacy was doomed for one reason: His wife was a prominent member of her local Democratic Party.

The job ultimately went to a prosecutor with no experience handling terrorism cases. But he was a Republican, which was the most important qualification to top aides of then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales who engaged in a pattern of misconduct in choosing career prosecutors and immigration judges, according to the report, which did not identify either prosecutor.

“Rather than strengthening our national security, the Department of Justice appears to have bent to the political will of the administration,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

His panel has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday that is expected to include testimony from Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

The 140-page report released Monday said Monica Goodling and D. Kyle Sampson routinely violated federal civil service law and Justice Department policy by seeking to hire only Republicans and conservatives. The report does not indicate that Mr. Gonzales was involved in or aware of the misconduct.

Miss Goodling, Mr. Sampson and Mr. Gonzales were unavailable for comment.

“Over the course of the last year and a half, the Justice Department has made many institutional changes to remedy the problems discussed in today’s report, and the report itself commends these changes,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey said. “It is crucial that the American people have confidence in the propriety of what we do and how we do it, and I will continue my efforts to make certain they can have such confidence.”

The report is the second concerning politicized hiring in the Justice Department. Last month, the inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility released a report raising similar concerns about the department’s hiring of interns and lawyers.

Investigations of the Civil Rights Division and the firings of several U.S. attorneys are continuing.

In one case highlighted in Monday’s report, Miss Goodling, who was Mr. Gonzales’ liaison to the White House before she resigned last year, worried in 2006 that an applicant for an assistant U.S. attorney’s job in the District was a “liberal Democrat.”

She also mentioned to the District’s U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Taylor, that some former congressional Republican staffers may be interested in the position because Republicans had lost control of Congress.

Mr. Taylor told Miss Goodling that political affiliations are not relevant and such politicized hiring will cost U.S. attorneys their credibility, according to the report. Miss Goodling apparently was unmoved by Mr. Taylor’s concerns.

Similarly, political ideology was used to evaluate immigration court judges and for members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, according to the report.

Mr. Sampson, chief of staff to Mr. Gonzales, developed the protocols to do this and later told investigators that he thought immigration judges were political appointees whose hirings were not subject to federal civil service law.

“Not only did this process violate the law and Department policy, it also caused significant delays in appointing [immigration judges],” according to the report. “These delays increased the burden on the immigration courts, which already were experiencing an increased workload and a high vacancy rate.”

The report accuses Miss Goodling of further misconduct when she told Justice Department lawyers preparing to defend a lawsuit from an unsuccessful candidate that political affiliations were not part of the selection process.

It is not clear whether Miss Goodling or Mr. Sampson will face any repercussions. Neither is employed by the Justice Department, and their suspected violations involve civil, not criminal, law.

Democratic Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Linda T. Sanchez of California called for an inquiry into whether Miss Goodling, Mr. Sampson or Mr. Gonzales committed perjury during congressional testimony.

Miss Goodling’s attorneys reacted angrily to that suggestion, saying she testified truthfully under a grant of immunity last year before the House Judiciary Committee.

“In light of Ms. Goodling’s exceptional candor and cooperation, it is outrageous for Chairman Conyers and Representative Sanchez to suggest that she may have lied to the Congress,” attorneys John Dowd, Jeffrey M. King and James E. Sherry said in a statement. “As concluded in the report, Ms. Goodling candidly admitted to Congress that she had ‘crossed the line’ by considering political factors with respect to a variety of career positions at the Department of Justice, and that she regretted those errors.”

Mr. Sampson’s attorney, Bradford Berenson, said his client “consistently opposed the use of political or partisan hiring criteria for positions he knew to be career civil service positions. The OIG Report documents several instances in which he interceded to prevent other Department officials from taking such criteria into account.”

“As the OIG Report itself makes clear, when he first learned that his good faith belief that immigration judges were political appointees may have been incorrect, he forthrightly acknowledged how the hiring was being done and why he had believed that method to be lawful and appropriate. He then immediately agreed with the recommendation to put a stop to this process until a formal review could take place,” Mr. Berenson said of Mr. Sampson.

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