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Hiring Process Was Bypassed for Prosecutor

That review normally begins with lengthy separate interviews with three hiring committee members, followed by a mock "opening argument" that applicants must deliver on videotape. If candidates are judged worthy after these two stages, they are interviewed by the U.S. attorney.

Taylor said he has hired 20 prosecutors since he took over in September and has allowed one other -- who was rejoining the Washington office after a few years' hiatus -- to bypass the screening process.

He said half a dozen other prosecutors in the office skipped the screening process because of their experience, but he acknowledged that many others were screened, particularly if they were assigned to D.C. Superior Court.

Laurie L. Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School who testified before Congress on Feb. 6 about the politicization of the Justice Department, said that she did not know the circumstances of Apperson's hiring but that politics should not be part of the equation.

She said it is not unusual for a political official to "put in a good word" for an applicant for a prosecutor's job. "The question is," she said, "did this one go beyond that? Did this open the door for someone they otherwise wouldn't have taken?"

Taylor said that in hiring Apperson, he took into account that the Eastern District of Virginia had signaled it would not rehire him. Apperson acknowledged that joking about a proposal for a White History Month was inappropriate, according to a source in the prosecutor's office.

Apperson, who worked for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr on the Whitewater and Monica S. Lewinsky investigations, abruptly left his job as chief counsel for a House Judiciary subcommittee in July 2005 after he wrote a letter over the signature of his boss at the time, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), to a chief judge of a federal appeals court. In the letter, Sensenbrenner demanded that the chief of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rethink his court's pending sentencing decision and give a drug courier a longer prison term.

A Capitol Hill official familiar with the matter said at the time that Apperson's leaving "had everything to do" with his role in the letter.

Ethics experts said the letter violated House rules that prohibit lawmakers from intervening in court cases and from communicating with judges without notifying the other parties in the case. Several judges in Washington remember the letter well, describing it as part of a pattern by the then-Republican-led Congress to interfere with the judiciary.

Apperson also wrote 2003 legislation known as the Feeney Amendment, which instructed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to help reduce the number of times judges gave more lenient sentences than federal guidelines recommend. It required that Justice officials and courts create a system to report to Congress when individual judges showed leniency in sentencing.

Judges across the political spectrum, including then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, derided the provision as damaging and insulting.

Late last year and early this year, Apperson was working as legislative counsel for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and was passing around his résumé. Taylor said he agreed in January, after conferring with several Justice Department officials, that the best fit for Apperson was as a prosecutor in his office.

"Sure, he's made some mistakes in judgment," Taylor said. "For gosh sakes, everybody deserves a second chance."

Staff writers Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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