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DOJ Report: Goodling, Sampson, Williams Violated Law and Justice Policy on Hiring

John Bresnahan

WASHINGTON - A scathing new report by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility and DOJ's Office of the Inspector General found that three former high-ranking Bush appointees at the Justice Department violated federal law and department policy by considering political affiliations when filing career positions at Justice.0728 07

The two offices focused on the activities of Monica Goodling, the former White House liaison at DOJ under ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as well as Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to ex-Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and Jan Williams, Goodling's predecessor as White House liaison.

Goodling admitted during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that her hiring decisions for some career positions at DOJ may have been influenced in part based on political consideration," including Assistant U.S. Attorneys, immigration judges and other senior career posts at Justice, but the OPR-OIG laid out in much greater detail what actually occurred.

"Our investigation found that Goodling improperly subjected  candidates for certain career positions to the same politically based  evaluation she used on candidates for political positions, in violation of
federal law and Department policy," the 140-page report states. "The evidence also showed that Goodling considered political or  ideological affiliations when recommending and selecting candidates for other permanent career positions, including a career SES [Senior Executive Service] position in the  Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) and AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney] positions. These  actions violated federal law and Department policy, and also constituted misconduct."

The report added: "In addition, we determined that Goodling often used political or ideological affiliations to select or reject career attorney candidates for temporary details to Department offices, including positions in EOUSA that had not been filled by political appointees. Goodling's use of political considerations in connection with these details was particularly  damaging to the Department because it resulted in high-quality  candidates for important details being rejected in favor of less-qualified candidates."

As for Williams and Sampson, the DOJ investigators also failed to believe their claims that they either did not look at political affiliation for career posts, or were told by other Justice officials that they could do so in filling some career spots.

"In sum, the evidence showed that Sampson, Williams, and  Goodling violated federal law and Department policy, and Sampson and Goodling committed misconduct, by considering political and ideological  affiliations in soliciting and selecting IJs, which are career positions protected by the civil service laws," the report concludes.

Since Goodling and Sampson resigtned from Justice in the wake of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, the DOJ investigators did not recommend taking any legal action against them.

Democrats, as expected, pounced on the report as fresh evidence of the "politicization" of Justice under President Bush.

"The policies and attitudes of this administration encouraged politicization of the Department and permitted these excesses. It is now clear that these politically-rooted actions were widespread, and could not have been done without at least the tacit approval of senior Department officials," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped lead the probe in the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, said the OPR-OIG investigation "confirms, in glaring black and white, our worst fears about what took place at the Justice Department: political considerations trumped everything else and a great civil service was sullied for the lowest of motives. It is crystal clear that the law was broken. But since it is unlikely that Monica Goodling acted on her own, the question is, how many others were involved. We will look for every way possible to hold the appropriate people accountable."

Update - House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said his panel was considering a criminal referral to the Justice Committee over the issue.

"Today's report describes 'systematic' violations of federal law by several former leaders of the Department of Justice," Conyers said in a statement released by his office. "Apparently, the political screening was so pervasive that even qualified Republican applicants were rejected from Department positions because they were 'not Republican enough' for Monica Goodling and others. The report also makes clear that the cost to our nation of these apparent crimes was severe, as qualified individuals were rejected for key positions in the fight against terrorism and other critical Department jobs for no reason other than political whim. The Report also indicates that Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson, and Alberto Gonzales may have lied to the Congress about these matters. I have directed my staff to closely review this matter and to consider whether a criminal referral for perjury is needed."

Conyers was evidently referring to testimony by Goodling and other former DOJ officials to his committee. While Goodling was covered by a grant of immunity during her May 23, 2007, appearance before House Judiciary, such a grant would not cover allegations of perjury.

© 2008

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