July 29, 2008

Illegal Hiring, Justice Finds — Gonzales Aides Used Political Tests

By Lara Jakes Jordan

WASHINGTON - Former Justice Department officials broke the law by letting Bush administration politics dictate the hiring of prosecutors, immigration judges and other career government lawyers, according to an internal investigation released Monday.

For nearly two years, top advisers to then-Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales discriminated against applicants for career jobs who weren't Republican or conservative loyalists, the Justice report found. At times, their search for GOP activists to fill judgeships threatened to clog courts and potentially delay deporting illegal immigrants, the report said.

The federal government makes a distinction between "career" and "political" appointees, and it's against civil service laws and Justice Department policy to hire career employees on the basis of political affiliation or allegiance. Yet Monica Goodling, who served as Gonzales' counselor and White House liaison, routinely asked about politics, the report concluded.

"What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?" Goodling asked at least some candidates, according to the joint investigation by Justice's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility. Others were asked about their views on abortion and gay marriage.

Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey, who succeeded Gonzales, said he was "disturbed" by the findings. He said he would make sure "that the conduct described in this report does not occur again at the department."

The investigation was one of several examining accusations that White House political meddling drove prosecution, policy and employment decisions within the once fiercely independent Justice Department. Those charges were spurred initially by the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and culminated with Gonzales' resignation under fire last September.

Gonzales appeared unaware of the political hiring process outlined by Goodling and his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, the report said. Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since leaving the department, said in a statement Monday that "political considerations should play no part in the hiring of career officials at the Department of Justice."

The 140-page report does not indicate whether Goodling or Sampson - who no longer work at Justice - could face any charges. But congressional Democrats took aim.

"I have directed my staff to closely review this matter and to consider whether a criminal referral for perjury is needed," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.


EPA 'Gag Order'

Even talk to IG called off-limits

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency is telling its pollution enforcement officials not to talk with congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail.


The June 16 message instructs 11 managers in the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the branch of the agency charged with making sure environmental laws are followed, to remind their staff members to keep quiet.

Please do not respond to questions or make any statements," reads the e-mail sent by Robbi Farrell, the division's chief of staff. Instead, staff members should forward inquiries to a designated EPA representative.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained the e- mail. The group is a nonprofit alliance of local, state and federal professionals. Jeff Ruch, its executive director, said Monday the e- mail reinforces a "bunker mentality" within EPA under the Bush administration.

The EPA, in an official statement, said Monday the e-mail was aimed at making agency responses more efficient, consistent and coordinated.

- Associated Press


Originally published by Lara Jakes Jordan Associated Press .

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