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Internal Justice Dept. Report Cites Illegal Hiring Practices

In this Aug. 27, 2007 file photo, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announces his resignation during at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. A new Justice Department report concludes that politics illegally influenced the hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges, and largely lays the blame on top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In this Aug. 27, 2007 file photo, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announces his resignation during at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. A new Justice Department report concludes that politics illegally influenced the hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges, and largely lays the blame on top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)

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In several instances, candidates for immigration posts were solicited directly from the White House political affairs and personnel offices, as well as Republican congressmen, without ever being formally posted to the public, according to the report.

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Then-White House adviser Karl Rove once recommended a childhood friend for a judgeship in Chicago, to which the lawyer was named in October 2005 after a months-long delay. "The finger was on the scale," a career lawyer in the immigration office wrote in an e-mail at the time, which was later cited by investigators.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called on current Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to review hiring and remove workers who were recruited based on the illegal criteria. "The taxpayers are entitled to have the best, most qualified candidates dealing with the most important federal responsibilities, including enforcing our immigration laws, protecting national security, and enforcing criminal and civil rights statutes," Nadler said.

In a statement, Mukasey said that he was "disturbed" by the findings and that he is reviewing the report to determine whether further action should be taken.

A report last month by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility chief H. Marshall Jarrett found that politics had permeated hiring for the elite honors and summer law intern programs. That revelation already has prompted unsuccessful candidates to bring lawsuits seeking monetary damages and access to internal department correspondence. Lawyers who scrutinized yesterday's report predicted fresh claims would flow from people who maintain that their employment prospects have been hindered.

Leslie Hagen, an assistant U.S. attorney who according to yesterday's report was denied at least two positions at the Justice Department because Goodling suspected she was a lesbian, is petitioning current leaders for a "mutually agreeable permanent position," according to Lisa J. Banks, Hagen's employment attorney.

In another instance that investigators called "particularly damaging," Goodling refused to hire an award-winning career prosecutor with nearly two decades of experience for a temporary counterterrorism job in Washington because his wife served as vice chairman of the local Democratic Party and ran local congressional campaigns.

The prosecutor is not named in the report, but sources identified him as William J. Hochul Jr., an assistant U.S. attorney in Buffalo. He won guilty pleas from a New York collective known as the Lackawanna Six, which was accused of providing support to terrorists. Hochul, who started his career as a prosecutor in the District, did not return calls seeking comment.

Instead, a registered Republican with three years of experience as a federal prosecutor and no background in counterterrorism was selected for the position, according to the report.

Gonzales told investigators he was unaware of the illegal hiring practices his aides were using. "It's simply not possible for any Cabinet officer to be completely aware of and micromanage the activities of staffers, particularly where they don't inform him of what's going on," said George J. Terwilliger III, Gonzales's attorney.

Gonzales's statements to Congress last year about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and other subjects remain under investigation by the inspector general.

Investigators said the most widespread politicization occurred in the hiring of immigration judges, where vacancies and case backlogs mounted while officials sought to find politically appealing candidates. Hiring policies there changed after Texas lawyer Guadalupe Gonzalez filed a discrimination lawsuit: That suit was settled last year, and now such jobs are awarded on merit. "It was very apparent the department was going off in a different direction and it was also very clandestine," Gonzalez said in an interview yesterday.

Bradford A. Berenson, an attorney for Sampson, who oversaw the hiring of immigration judges, said the trouble stemmed from a misunderstanding. "With respect to immigration judges, he believed in complete good faith that they were not career civil service positions and that political criteria could be taken into account," Berenson said.

Investigators said they could not find evidence to support an account by Sampson, now in private law practice in the District, that Justice lawyers agreed with his interpretation.


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