Justice Department’s improper hiring needs further review
An internal report has concluded that political aides broke civil service laws by screening out applicants who didn't share the administration's beliefs.
The notion that illegal hiring practices at the U.S. Justice Department were largely due to the clumsy initiatives of a novice lawyer is almost beyond belief.
An internal Justice report documented e-mails from the White House's political affairs office directing agencies to find jobs for "as many of our Bush loyalists as possible." That gave the green light to zealous Justice operatives to improperly question applicants for nonpolitical positions and to reject those without conservative credentials.
The department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility catalogued how aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales broke laws by applying political yardsticks to job-seekers, hired scores of less-qualified candidates simply because of political leanings and damaged the integrity of the department.
Michael Mukasey, Gonzales' successor, has promised to prevent such offenses from happening again.
He must do more. Mukasey should review the hirings, remove those who were employed through the illegal standards and find out who instigated the improper practices. If he cannot do so independently or because the administration's time in office is short, he should allow special counsel to investigate. Though patronage jobs, such as U.S. attorney appointments, are political hires, career civil service positions, by statute, are not, assuring citizens that laws will be applied equally.
The report found that Monica Goodling, the department's White House liaison, and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, both of whom have resigned, were chiefly responsible for politicizing employment.
Goodling improperly questioned applicants about abortion, homosexuals, party affiliations and environmental issues. Sampson changed procedures by which immigration court judges were chosen, scrapping review of qualifications and experience. Instead, he asked the White House and Republican members of Congress for recommendations, eschewing public notice of vacancies for the jobs that carry substantial employment protections. Through the process, at least 40 judges were seated, including a friend of Karl Rove's, then an adviser to President Bush.
Among those Goodling refused to hire was a career prosecutor with two decades of experience for a key counterterrorism job because his wife was a Democrat. The job went to a registered Republican with three years' experience, none in counterterrorism. An assistant U.S. attorney was rejected for two positions because Goodling heard rumors that she might be a lesbian.
During a congressional hearing, Goodling projected a timorous image of a neophyte feeling her way through new territory. Sampson claimed he didn't know the judgeships were civil service jobs. The report, however, showed both knew what they were doing was wrong and compounded their misdeeds by prevaricating.
The report isn't the last word on the department's problems. Still to come are probes of the civil rights division, firing of U.S. attorneys and Gonzales' role and statements in these affairs.