Internal Justice Dept. Report Cites Illegal Hiring Practices
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a "farm system" for Republicans at the Justice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.
That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department's second-in-command.
An extensive report by the department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility concluded yesterday that Goodling and others had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in "misconduct," a finding that could expose them to further scrutiny and sanctions. The report depicted Goodling as a central figure in politicizing employment decisions at Justice during the Bush administration.
Goodling declined to cooperate with investigators, who instead interviewed 85 witnesses and scoured documents and computer hard drives to prepare their report. Last year, she trembled as she told the House Judiciary Committee that she "crossed the line" by asking improper questions of job seekers to gauge their political leanings.
But the report and accounts from lawyers who worked alongside Goodling, 34, at Justice provide a far more extensive examination of her dominance during her time as the department's White House liaison and counselor to the attorney general. One source said staff members called her "she who must be obeyed."
Thirty-four candidates told investigators that Goodling or one of her deputies raised the topic of abortion in job interviews and 21 said they discussed same-sex marriage, the report said. Another job applicant said he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, only to watch Goodling "frown" and respond, "But she's pro-choice."
She and her aides regularly gave candidates for career civil service jobs a form designed for political appointees that sought information on party affiliation and financial contributions. When job seekers sometimes raised objections, Goodling replied that the form was a mistake, showing that she was "aware that it was improper," the report said.
John M. Dowd, an attorney for Goodling, said yesterday that she deserved praise, not scorn, for her "exceptional candor" with Congress last year. "Each and every one of the core conclusions of the OIG/OPR report . . . is consistent with and indeed derived from Ms. Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee," he said.
The 140-page report appeared to confirm the suspicions of congressional Democrats and raised fresh questions about the reputation of the Justice Department, which has been roiled since the resignations of more than a dozen top officials last year, including Goodling, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Gonzales chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson. The report also found that Sampson had engaged in misconduct by systematically involving politics in the hiring of immigration judges.
Investigators cited discrepancies in information provided by Goodling, Sampson and former press aide John Nowacki, who, like Goodling, received his law degree from Regent University, founded by television evangelist Pat Robertson. But they stopped short of concluding that the conduct rose to the level of a criminal violation.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said yesterday he had directed his staff to consider whether there are grounds to refer allegedly inconsistent statements for possible criminal prosecution. Attorneys for the former Justice Department officials scoffed at the idea, and independent lawyers following the case said it is likely that officials who had left the department will face only ethics inquiries in connection with breaking civil service laws.
Current and former department lawyers said they were appalled by the deep reach of the political hiring, which affected hundreds of rejected job seekers and as many as 40 immigration judges who were recruited under the political criteria. Those judges may remain on the bench because their career civil service jobs carry significant employment protections.