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Justice Besmirched
How the Bush administration soiled itself

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

THE LATIN phrase on the seal of the Justice Department loosely means "he who prosecutes on behalf of justice." During the reign of Monica Goodling and D. Kyle Sampson it also should have read, "Democrats need not apply."

Ms. Goodling was counsel to the attorney general from October 2005 to April 2006 and was the Justice Department's liaison to the White House from April 2006 to April 2007; Mr. Sampson joined the Justice Department in August 2003 and became chief of staff to then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in September 2005. He left the department in March 2007. According to a report released yesterday by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, the Justice Department of Ms. Goodling and Mr. Sampson was one in which connections and politics mattered more than competence and professionalism. To these callow and undeserving public servants, this may have seemed the very definition of how Washington works. But such considerations should have no place in the hiring of career lawyers who are entrusted to carry out nonpolitical investigations and prosecutions.

During the Sampson-Goodling tenure, lawyers who applied for nonpolitical career positions were routinely queried about party affiliations and political donations. Anyone suspected of being a Democrat -- or a "big D" as one Bush Justice Department crony put it -- was stricken from contention. Well-qualified candidates were out of the running if, as Ms. Goodling scribbled during one candidate interview, they were not "Cons. On 'god, guns + gays.' "

For his part, Mr. Sampson overhauled the way in which immigration judges were selected to ensure that Republicans or conservatives got the jobs. Before Mr. Sampson, these judges were vetted by the Executive Office of Immigration Review; after evaluating qualifications and experience, the office would forward finalists to the attorney general. It was understood that the positions were career slots, and political affiliations or views could not play a part in selections. That all changed under Mr. Sampson; instead of routinely posting vacancies and taking applications nationwide, Mr. Sampson turned to the White House or congressional Republicans for names of candidates, most of whom would turn out to be donors or former staff members or others with political connections to the Republican Party. These candidates would almost invariably get the nod.

The inspector general concluded that Ms. Goodling and Mr. Sampson broke federal civil law and violated Justice Department policy. It is exceedingly frustrating that both could escape the punishment they deserve because they have left the department; Justice no longer has the standing to take legal action against them, but individuals directly harmed by their breaches could potentially file suit. In truth, the entire Justice Department and all Americans were harmed by their arrogant ethical breaches. Ms. Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee last year under a grant of immunity; the immunity, however, is pierced if the testimony is not truthful. The inspector general's report notes that new evidence seems to contradict several points asserted by Ms. Goodling during that testimony. These discrepancies should be investigated.

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