Report Shows Politics Ruled Bush Justice Department

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by Glynn Wilson

Maybe this will convince the Alabama press corps that politics was paramount to the exclusion of impartial justice in the Bush Justice Department.

The United States Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, which is charged by law with the conducting “independent investigations, audits, inspections, and special reviews” of DOJ personnel and programs “to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct, and to promote integrity, economy (and) efficiency,” released a report on Tuesday concluding that politics and ideology were indeed used unethically and illegally by the department in the hiring process between 2002 and 2007.

Hundreds of highly qualified lawyers who applied for internships and jobs were rejected because of their ties to left-leaning nonprofit groups – especially ANY environmental group – or clerkships with Democratic judges and lawmakers, the report concluded, while preferential treatment was given to those with Republican ties and conservative affiliations on their resumes.

After digesting the report, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to implement Inspector General Glenn Fine’s recommendations.

“Yet again, the Department has been putting politics where it doesn’t belong,” Conyers said in a statement. “The report concludes that under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ tenure in 2006, several Department officials including Michael Elston violated federal law and Justice Department policy. We already know from the Committee testimony of Monica Goodling that she ‘crossed a line’ in hiring career attorneys as well.

“When it comes to the hiring of nonpartisan career attorneys, our system of justice should not be corrupted by partisan politics,” Conyers said. “It appears the politicization at Justice was so pervasive that even interns had to pass a partisan litmus test.”

The report’s recommendations include a statement making clear that in future hiring and firing decisions, all decisions should be based on merit.

“Political affiliations may not be used as criteria in evaluating candidates and that ideological affiliations cannot be used as a proxy to discriminate on the basis of political affiliation,” the report says. Department leaders should be “vigilant to ensure that political or ideological affiliations are not used to select candidates.”

According to Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, who represented former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman early on in his travails with the politicized Bush Justice Department and still represents some of the legislators now under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Birmingham, the details of the report are no surprise to anyone who has followed this story over the past year.

“This report is nothing new to those who have been involved with or closely followed the Justice Department,” Jones said. “What is not included though is that the practice is much broader than the Honors program and extends to U.S. attorney’s offices across the country.”

Two things happened that has allowed the Bush administration to stack the Justice Department with young Federalist Society lawyers, Jones said.

“First, after 9/11, DOJ was able to bring on a whole slew of new assistant U.S. attorneys. Then, in a move to stack the deck, Ashcroft’s DOJ began offering early retirement benefits to senior lawyers, resulting in career prosecutors leaving the department and being replaced by young Republican/Federalist Society lawyers,” he said. “Just like with the Judiciary, the influence will be left for years to come.”

In the heart of the report, investigators focused on the DOJ honors program, which places about 150 law school graduates with top credentials in jobs there. While historically the program had operated under the control of senior career officials, under Bush’s first Attorney General John Ashcroft the control of the program changed.

In what could have been a worthy attempt to reach out to a range of students outside the so-called Ivy League, hundreds of qualified applicants were rejected because of their ties to liberal or progressive nonprofit groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, or who had clerked for judges or legislators with ties to the Democratic Party.

Concerned Justice employees had raised alarms about the politics of the department last year when they sent a letter to Congressmen who had been examining whether political considerations led to the dismissal of at least nine U.S. attorneys. That investigation now includes the probe into whether Siegelman was prosecuted for political reasons, to remove him as a political threat from future elections in Alabama.

The report is the first in a series of studies investigating the role and reach of political appointees in hiring and enforcement at Justice during the Bush years. The studies cover the prosecutor firings, problems in the civil rights division and problematic statements by former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, who took over after Ashcroft resigned – and then resigned himself last August the same week Bush political adviser Karl Rove resigned from the White House.

You can read the full final report here.

Now will the press in Alabama tell the people the truth? Or will they bury or ignore the report? Stay tuned…

© 2008 – 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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