Political Hiring in Justice Division Probed

Bradley Schlozman is accused of favoring political conservatives in hiring decisions when he was acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division. He has since left the division.
Bradley Schlozman is accused of favoring political conservatives in hiring decisions when he was acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division. He has since left the division. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007

Karen Stevens, Tovah Calderon and Teresa Kwong had a lot in common. They had good performance ratings as career lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights division. And they were minority women transferred out of their jobs two years ago -- over the objections of their immediate supervisors -- by Bradley Schlozman, then the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Schlozman ordered supervisors to tell the women that they had performance problems or that the office was overstaffed. But one lawyer, Conor Dugan, told colleagues that the recent Bush appointee had confided that his real motive was to "make room for some good Americans" in that high-impact office, according to four lawyers who said they heard the account from Dugan.

In another politically tinged conversation recounted by former colleagues, Schlozman asked a supervisor if a career lawyer who had voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a onetime political rival of President Bush, could still be trusted.

Schlozman has acknowledged in sworn congressional testimony that he had boasted of hiring Republicans and conservatives, but he denied taking improper actions against the division's career officials. That account was challenged by six officials in the division who said in interviews that they either overhead him making brazen political remarks about career employees or witnessed him making personnel decisions with apparent political motivation.

Schlozman's efforts to hire political conservatives for career jobs throughout the division are now being examined as part of a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration's alleged politicization of the Justice Department. The department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility confirmed last month that their inquiry, begun in March, will look at hiring, firing and legal-case decisions in the division.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee plan today to shine a renewed spotlight on decision-making in the division by questioning Schlozman's replacement, Wan Kim, about hiring practices and about its support for state voter-identification programs that could inhibit minority voting.

Democrats also plan to ask about the dwindling diversity of the staff in a division whose core mission includes fighting racial discrimination. The Bush administration, largely under Schlozman, hired seven members as replacements or additions to the 14-lawyer appellate section where Stevens, Calderon and Kwong worked. They included six whites, one Asian and no African Americans.

Schlozman's attorney, William Jordan, said his client did not want to comment on individual personnel decisions. Jordan said that Schlozman does not recall commenting on lawyers' voting records but at times encouraged cases to be reassigned to lawyers Schlozman considered to be very talented. Dugan declined to comment.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd also declined to respond to the allegations but did say that the appellate section's recent track record "speaks for itself." He cited statistics showing that when the section filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the past six years, it had an 87 percent success rate, compared with 61 percent success in the previous six years.

Schlozman arrived at the Justice Department in 2001 as counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson. A Kansas native and 1996 George Washington University law school graduate, Schlozman had clerked for two federal judges and worked alongside William Bradford Reynolds for two years in the Washington law firm Howrey Simon.

Reynolds, whom Schlozman has cited as a mentor, was a controversial assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Reagan administration. His confirmation for a higher department post was blocked by lawmakers in both parties who accused him of pursuing a radical interpretation of the nation's civil rights laws.

Schlozman's and Reynolds's career paths would end up having much in common.

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