By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007
The head of the Justice Department's embattled Civil Rights Division is to resign at the end of August, officials said yesterday, making him the latest in a series of senior political appointees to leave the agency amid continued controversy over Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Wan J. Kim, the assistant attorney general for civil rights since November 2005, has been closely questioned by congressional Democrats about the administration's policy decisions and allegations by former career officials of improper hiring within the division, mostly under his predecessor.
Kim is set to join nearly a dozen other senior Justice Department officials and aides who have resigned this year. The departures come as Gonzales fends off calls from lawmakers for his resignation over his handling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year and congressional testimony that lawmakers have called misleading.
Wan's predecessor, Bradley J. Schlozman, resigned from the department last week. The department's inspector general is investigating allegations that Schlozman considered political affiliations in the hiring of career employees.
Gonzales said in a statement that Kim, who joined the department more than a decade ago, has "served the Department of Justice and the American people with distinction and honor." The statement continued: "I will miss his honest opinions and valuable contributions as an advisor to me." He praised Kim for enforcing traditional anti-discrimination laws, as well as newer statutes on human trafficking and minority-language ballot requirements.
But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has sharply criticized the Bush administration's civil rights enforcement record, said in a statement that Kim's departure "must not hinder our efforts to demand accountability."
"Too many questions have remained unanswered, too many civil rights laws have not been enforced, and too many officials have resigned to evade the accountability that is to come for the disastrously flawed policies of this administration," Kennedy added.
"Mr. Kim is leaving the Civil Rights Division at a time when there are serious concerns about the Division's priorities, hiring, and decision-making process," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement.
Schlozman acknowledged during Senate testimony this year that, while serving as head of the Civil Rights Division in 2005, he bragged to colleagues about hiring conservatives and Republicans for career positions in the unit. Officials have also said that Schlozman is under investigation for allegedly pushing aside three minority women in the Civil Rights Division to "make room for some good Americans," as a colleague quoted him saying.
Kim distanced himself from Schlozman's actions during a Senate appearance in June, saying that his own hiring decisions had been free of political ideology: "Talent and competence and ability to me matter, and other things don't matter."
Officials said Kim is going into private law practice.