Hiring Process Was Bypassed for Prosecutor

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

When he was counsel to a House subcommittee in 2005, Jay Apperson resigned after writing a letter to a federal judge in his boss's name, demanding a tougher sentence for a drug courier. As an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia in the 1990s, he infuriated fellow prosecutors when he facetiously suggested a White History Month to complement Black History Month.

Yet when Apperson was looking for a job recently, four senior Justice Department officials urged Jeffrey A. Taylor, the top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, to hire him. Taylor did, and allowed him to skip the rigorous vetting process that the vast majority of career federal prosecutors face.

As Congress and the administration spar over whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales allowed politics to unduly influence the work of the Justice Department, Apperson's hiring has been cited by government lawyers and others as an example of how a system that relies on apolitical prosecutors should not function.

It is not clear whether Apperson's hiring is part of the internal Justice Department investigation of Monica M. Goodling, until recently the agency's senior counselor and White House liaison, for allegedly considering applicants' political affiliation in hiring decisions. That probe began when Goodling allegedly tried to hold up the hiring of another prosecutor whom Taylor was recruiting, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the inquiry.

Goodling said the candidate, a government civil rights lawyer, appeared to lean Democratic, two sources said yesterday. Taylor ultimately gained permission from the Justice Department to bypass Goodling and hire prosecutors without her review. He hired the civil rights lawyer, who is scheduled to start work on Monday.

But Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, heard about Taylor's allegations and referred the matter to the agency's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility while serving as Gonzales's interim chief of staff in March and April, according to two law enforcement sources.

Newsweek first revealed in its current issue the matter that led to the investigation.

Taylor, who formerly worked as Gonzales's counsel, said the decision to hire Apperson was his. But he said that Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, and Acting Associate Attorney General William W. Mercer urged him to consider Apperson. Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William E. Moschella and Michael A. Battle, who at the time headed the office that oversees U.S. attorneys, also suggested that Apperson would be a good hire.

"They said, 'The guy needs a job. He'd do a good job for you,' " Taylor recalled in an interview this week. "But I want to be clear. No one ordered me to hire Jay Apperson. If someone says I made an error in judgment, that's fine."

Taylor said he "may have" discussed hiring Apperson with Goodling but does not recall doing so.

Apperson, 51, declined to be interviewed for this article. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse referred to Taylor all questions on Apperson's hiring.

Taylor said he allowed Apperson to skip the three-stage screening process for applicants because of Apperson's experience as a prosecutor in Virginia from 1987 to 1996.

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