Watchdogs whack DOJ for cronyism: The Swamp
 
The Swamp
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Posted June 24, 2008 11:44 AM
The Swamp

Andrew Zajac

A pair of Justice Department watchdogs this morning weighed in with a scathing report which concludes that senior department officials used political affiliation to weed out candidates for coveted appointments to a pair of prestigious entry level programs which are supposed to be non-partisan and merit-based.

AshcroftScreeners for the Honors Program and the Summer Legal Intern Program in 2002 and 2006 "improperly deselected candidates for interviews based on political and ideological affiliations. Both Department policy and federal law prohibit discrimination in hiring for career positions on the basis of political affiliations," states the report, which was jointly released by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsiblity Counsel H. Marshall Jarrett.

Their report puts two officials, Esther Slater McDona2ld, counsel to the Associate Attorney General, and Michael Elston, the then-chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General on the hook for misconduct:

"The documentary evidence and witness interviews also support the conclusion that (McDonald and Elston) took political or ideological affiliations into account in deselecting candidates, in violation of Department policy and federal law, and thereby committed misconduct," the report states.

GonzalesThe findings are the latest fallout from the troubled tenures of former Attorneys General John Ashcroft, pictured above right, and Alberto Gonzales, right, who were accused of a wide range of overreaches, including politicized hiring and abetting an improper expansion of executive branch power.

The current AG, Michael Mukasey, isn't arguing with Fine and Jarrett. Here his statement on their work:

"I appreciate the hard work and collaboration of the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of Inspector General on this report. The Department overhauled its Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program hiring processes last year, and I am pleased that the report remarked positively on these institutional changes. I have also made clear, and will continue to make clear, that the consideration of political affiliations in the hiring of career Department employees is impermissible and unacceptable. The joint report issued today contains additional recommendations aimed at ensuring that political and ideological affiliations are not inappropriately used to evaluate candidates for these programs; I accept, and have directed the implementation, of all of those recommendations."

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, was in a told-you-so mood:

"Today's troubling report from the Inspector General confirms what our oversight efforts in this Congress have uncovered about the politicization of hiring practices at the Department. It confirms our findings and our fears that the same senior Department officials involved with the firing of United States Attorneys were injecting improper political motives into the process of hiring young attorneys. I suspect further reports from the Inspector General will continue to shed light on the extent to which the Bush administration has allowed politics to affect - and infect - the Department's priorities, from law enforcement to the operation of the crucial Civil Rights Division to the Department's hiring practices.

"This report and those to follow will serve as a reminder to future presidents - and future congresses - that never again should blatant partisanship be made the crux of the Justice Department's hiring practices. The Department of Justice is not the president's legal defense team. It houses our nation's top law enforcement officers, and it has been crippled in the last seven years. We began the first real oversight efforts of this administration that has led to our uncovering the truth about this administration's efforts
to infuse partisan politics into our nation's top law enforcement agency."

If you're looking for a silver lining in this mess, or a take that attempts to spackle over the problems, here's the statement of Lamar Smith, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, whose job frequently boils down to minimizing, dismissing or criticizing stepped up oversight resulting from Democrats' return to the majority in the 2006 election:

Smith: IG Report Disappointing
Department's Corrective Steps Should be Applauded

Washington, D.C. -- Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) issued the following statement in response to the Inspector General's report on allegations of misconduct in the hiring of legal interns at the Department of Justice:

"I'm disappointed by findings that in 2006 a few individuals within the Justice Department apparently violated Department policy and possibly federal law in the hiring of Honors Program lawyers and Summer Law Interns. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has already begun taking corrective steps and making necessary changes to the hiring practices of both programs, and I am confident that the Department will take the appropriate action of quickly implementing the Inspector General's recommendations.

"I am encouraged, however, by the Inspector General's findings that several political appointees within the Justice Department raised concerns about the actions of their colleagues through the appropriate channels and spoke candidly with investigators. The misdeeds of a few individuals should not tarnish the reputation of the Department of Justice as a whole.

"This is an agency of both political and career employees who are dedicated to serving the cause of Justice above all else. The majority of Justice Department employees, both career and political, are carrying out that duty with distinction and integrity. I am confident that the Department and its thousands of dedicated employees will continue their important work on behalf of the American people."

Leahy may get further opportunities to lecture and Smith may spend more time playing defense. Fine and Jarrett still are investigating other allegations of politicized hiring, as well as the removals of several U.S. attorneys, which triggered Gonzales' downfall last year.


Today's full report can be found by clicking on this link.

Here's a summary of the report's findings:

Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Counsel H. Marshall Jarrett today issued a report describing the results of their investigation into allegations of politicized hiring in the Department of Justice's (Department) Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program from 2002 to 2006. The Honors Program is a highly competitive hiring program for entry-level Department attorneys. The Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) is a highly competitive program for paid summer internships for law students in the Department.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) joint investigation found that the committee used by the Department to screen applications for these positions inappropriately used political and ideological affiliations to "deselect" candidates for the Honors Program and SLIP in 2006. In addition, the data also indicated that political or ideological affiliations were used to deselect candidates in 2002.

Prior to 2002, career employees within each Department component decided which applicants to interview and select for both the Honors Program and SLIP. However, under a new system implemented by the Attorney General in 2002, a Screening Committee, generally comprised of politically appointed employees from the Department's leadership offices, had to approve all Honors Program and SLIP candidates for interviews by the components. In addition, the political appointees in each Department component were encouraged to become move involved in the hiring process to select these candidates.

In our investigation of whether political and ideological affiliations were improperly considered in the hiring process for these programs, the OIG and OPR interviewed more than 70 individuals who participated in the hiring process. Our investigators also reviewed thousands of pages of candidate applications, e-mails, and other documents related to the Honors Program and SLIP hiring process from 2002 through 2006. In addition, we conducted extensive analyses of the applications of candidates who had been approved or deselected by the Screening Committees each year to determine whether candidates with apparent political or ideological affiliations on their applications were treated differently.

The evidence showed that the Screening Committees in 2002 and 2006 improperly deselected candidates for interviews based on political and ideological affiliations. Both Department policy and federal law prohibit discrimination in hiring for career positions on the basis of political affiliations and require the Department to use merit based hiring practices that identify qualified applicants through fair and open competition.

The data analysis we conducted for 2002 showed that candidates with Democratic Party and liberal affiliations apparent on their applications were deselected at a significantly higher rate than applicants with Republican Party, conservative, or neutral affiliations. This pattern continued when we compared a subset of academically highly qualified candidates. While we were unable to conclude that any specific members of the 2002 Screening Committee intentionally made deselections based on these prohibited factors, and each member denied doing so, the data indicated that the Committee considered political or ideological affiliations when deselecting candidates.

During the next 3 years, from 2003 to 2005, Screening Committees made few deselections and we concluded that the deselection decisions could reasonably be explained on the basis of a combination of low class rank, low grades, and attendance at a lower-tier law school.

However, we found that in 2006, the Screening Committee inappropriately used political and ideological affiliations to deselect a significant number of candidates. We determined that a significantly higher percentage of the deselected Honors Program and SLIP candidates had liberal affiliations as compared to candidates with conservative affiliations. This pattern was also apparent when we compared applicants with Democratic Party affiliations versus Republican Party affiliations for both Honors Program and SLIP candidates. The pattern was also apparent when we examined a subset of candidates who were highly qualified academically.

The documentary evidence and witness interviews also support the conclusion that two members of the 2006 Screening Committee, Esther Slater McDonald, then Counsel to the Associate Attorney General, and Michael Elston, then Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General, took political or ideological affiliations into account in deselecting candidates, in violation of Department policy and federal law, and thereby committed misconduct.

The evidence showed that McDonald wrote disparaging statements about candidates' liberal and Democratic Party affiliations on the applications she reviewed and that she voted to deselect candidates on that basis. We found that another member of the 2006 Screening Committee, a career Assistant United States Attorney on detail to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, did not use improper considerations in his review of candidates for the Honors Program and SLIP. In fact, he appropriately raised concerns that political or ideological affiliations were being used by McDonald to both his supervisor and to Elston.

However, we concluded that Elston, who was the head of the 2006 Screening Committee, failed to take appropriate action when he learned that McDonald was routinely deselecting candidates on the basis of what she perceived to be the candidates' liberal affiliations. The evidence also showed that Elston himself deselected some candidates - and allowed the deselection of others - based on impermissible considerations.

We concluded that many qualified candidates were deselected by the Screening Committee in 2006 because of their perceived political or ideological affiliations, in violation of Department policy and federal law.

With regard to the processes Department components used from 2002 through 2006 for proposing candidates to the Screening Committee, we generally found that the processes were largely controlled by career employees and were merit based. We did not find evidence that components employed inappropriate criteria such as political or ideological affiliations to select candidates to be interviewed for the Honors Program or SLIP.

However, we received allegations that inappropriate considerations were used in selecting Honors and SLIP candidates in the Civil Rights Division. The OIG and OPR are jointly investigating various allegations involving the Civil Rights Division, and we will provide our findings in a separate report when that investigation is concluded.

As a result of the widespread complaints from career employees that arose following the 2006 selection process, in April 2007 the Department changed the process for selecting Honors Program and SLIP candidates by removing the screening conducted by political officials on the Screening Committee and by providing written guidance on the criteria that should be applied. We concluded that these changes were appropriate and will address many of the problems that we found in our investigation. However, we recommended additional changes for the Department to consider that will help ensure that political or ideological affiliations are not inappropriately used to evaluate candidates for the Honors Program and SLIP in the future.

Inspector General Fine stated, "The Department's Screening Committee inappropriately used political factors when considering the hiring of career attorneys, when merit should have been the sole criteria. These actions undermined confidence in the integrity of Department's hiring processes."

OPR Counsel Jarrett stated, "This joint Report exposes the wrongdoing that occurred, and provides recommendations on how to prevent the improper infusion of partisan politics into the workings of the Honors Program and the Summer Law Intern Program in the future."

The OIG and OPR are also continuing their joint investigations into the removal of several U.S. Attorneys and allegations of other politicized hiring in the Department.

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Comments

Wow, how surprising !! Can we do anything about it !!!? It will take us a few months to spot all of the incompetents the Bush administration planted, in order to lay waste to the democratic process. Their incompetence, like his, will stick out like a petticoat on a pig !!!
SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, BRING THEM HOME, ALIVE AND WHOLE. NOW.


Your Bush Republican fascist tax breaks at work.

It's not about right and wrong, or God forbid the Constitution, it's about maintaining power no matter the cost.


Hiring incompetent lawyers from Pat Robertson's law school is the right way to go if you've broken the FISA law and don't want the DOJ to be capable of putting together a case against you. If that means DOJ can't convict terrorist or any other criminals, I guess that's a price our current Republican leadership is willing to pay.


Well, well, well. The Republic swine in the Swamp can come up with 95 postings about Obama's "turkey" seal....I believe that's how the McCain daily talking point instructed them to refer to it...but nary a word when a story breaks about our taxpayer money being wasted on hiring unqualified cronies and political hacks.



That cronyism came directly from the Bush WH. Right. And the House just gave immunity to telecoms and BushCo. I do hope the Senate has the respect for THE RULE OF LAW and for DUE PROCESS FOR AMERICAN CITIZENS. Why has BushCo been so afraid of the courts and due process for citizens? It is now up to the American Senate to show us that this is still America. Nancy Pelosi and the House have sold American citizens out. I don't care that Nancy said the Pugs will be tainted. The Pugs are always tainted. They wear it like a badge of honor. THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS TO THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE ARE VOTES from our legislators. No verbal BS. No harshly worded letters by the House. Only the votes matter-- that save us from the things my father fought in WWII to save America from. Pelosi needs to go, aong with any other rep who voted for the recent "compromise" that REWARDED Bush cronyism.


Prosecute the Prosecutors !! That is the only answer and if we get anybody in a higher office, that is, as it should be !! Nobody is above the law !!
That is one Department, what could be going on, in other Departments and Agencies ?? I hope they take a very close look at what has been going on in the Department of Veterans Affairs. There is now excuse, on God's green earth, for our Veterans to have been treated so shoddy, especially our Veterans from the slaughter in Iraq !! Where is Senator " Questionable Conduct " McCain's outrage, or is he too busy counting the Lobbyists' political contributions !!
SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, BRING THEM HOME, ALIVE AND WHOLE. NOW.


As usual, the DNC Swamp censors the facts favorable to the administration. Read http://www.powerlineblog.com/
and http://frum.nationalreview.com/.

David Frum points out parts of the report that show that the DOJ had a LEFT-wing hiring bias, going back many years, that some Bush appointees were trying to correct:

"The Inspector General's report on political hiring at the Department of Justice was released yesterday. And yes it does seem to show that the Bush administration went to lengths to hire more conservative young lawyers into the Honors track.

And what on earth might have prompted them to do such a thing?

From page 16:

Christopher Wray, then Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, said that politics and ideology only arose in the context of the concern of trying to be more inclusive. He said there was a perception that in past administrations the career employees doing the screening may have weeded out candidates because the selecting officials were not “comfortable with their political persuasion.” He said the political persuasion he was referring to pertained to candidates who had been in the military or law enforcement, “whether you call that conservative or not.”

Is there evidence to support this "perception"? Why yes!

On pp. 20-21, we find the numbers that establish that the DoJ career staff in 2002 nominated twice as many identifiable liberals as identifiable conservatives for the Honors track program: 100 vs. 46.

And on page 27, we read that the DoJ bureaucracy advanced nearly three times as many identifiable liberals as conservatives for summer internships that year, 81 vs. 29.

If anything, the ideological bias of the DoJ bureaucracy seems to have become more entrenched with time. In 2006, it nominated five times as many liberals as conservatives for Honors track positions, 150 v. 28, and more three times as many liberals as conservatives for summer internships, 68 v. 16. (See p. 41 and p. 54.)

The evidence suggests that DoJ hiring was contaminated by ideology long before the Bush administration came to town. The Bush administration may have erred and over-corrected. But let's not allow the permanent government and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) to get away with spreading the claim that things were done in a neutral fashion beforehand."

Funny how these parts of the report aren't in the Swamp article....


There is another story here that no one else seems to have noticed. The career staff who made the first cut on resumes apparently favored liberal and Democrat candidates 3:1 (see various data and charts in the OIG report). Can the next OIG investigation be into biased hiring practices by liberal career staff???


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