Two reports today confirm that under Bush the Justice Department has politicized everything it touches, even programs for the young.
Not that we should have needed any further proof of the obvious after AG Gonzales' deputy, Monica Goodling, confessed last May to illegally discriminating in hiring along partisan lines. But now it's official: DOJ hiring committees went to great lengths to exclude Democratic, liberal, and activist job applicants under both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales. A new report (PDF) investigates Republican manipulation of the Honors and Interns programs, which together bring new lawyers into DOJ. Ashcroft restructured the programs in 2002 specifically to ensure that more conservatives and fewer liberals were hired. He removed career officials from the hiring committees and replaced them with highly partisan political appointees.
Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used "political or ideological" factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.
The blistering report, prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general, is the first in what will be a series of investigations growing out of last year’s scandal over the firings of nine United States attorneys. It appeared to confirm for the first time in an official examination many of the allegations from critics who charged that the Justice Department had become overly politicized during the Bush administration.
"Many qualified candidates" were rejected for the department’s honors program because of what was perceived as a liberal bias, the report found. Those practices, the report concluded, "constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations."
The DOJ's political elves went to extraordinary lengths to root out what they called "wackos" and "extremists", blackballing applicants for affiliation with such groups as The Nature Conservancy and The American Constitution Society. They invested much time in combing through applicants' backgrounds searching for disqualifying hints of liberalism or the belief that the world might somehow be improved. Even exceptionally distinguished liberal applicants were routinely denied job interviews, whereas mere membership in the Federalist Society was considered sufficient to guarantee an interview. Among the political appointees whom the report rebukes is the rather nasty former counsel to the Associate AG. Monica Goodling had put her in charge of the interview process.
Esther Slater McDonald..."wrote disparaging statements about the candidates' liberal and Democratic Party affiliations on the applications she reviewed and ... she voted to deselect candidates on that basis," said the report by Inspector General Glenn Fine.
Sen. Leahy's response to the report was pointed.
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.
Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, by contrast, characteristically tried to paint lipstick on the pig:
"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..."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.
Those few individuals, all Republicans, are right at the top of the DOJ, however. They're the ones who shut down those objections from career employees. They're the ones who perverted the frickin Justice Department.
And despite Smith's confidence that things have surely improved under Michael Mukasey, that's far from clear. You remember two weeks ago when news leaked out that DOJ's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was doling out grants to politically well connected Republicans (for example, to a program run by Bill Bennett's wife) while rejecting applications that were actually worthy? After employees blew the whistle on OJJDP director Robert Flores' corruption, DOJ started an investigation. No, not into the corruption; it was an investigation of the whistleblowing.
But Flores' corruption just is too egregious to cover up. Murray Waas has another revelation today. Under pressure from another political appointee, Steven McFarland (director of DOJ's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives task force), Flores awarded a massive grant to Lisa Trevino Cummins, formerly of the WH Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Cummins' application previously had been deemed unacceptable by Department reviewers, partly because fully a third of the grant was to go to her consulting firm just for helping the intended recipient spend the money. Cummins also planned to have the grant overseen by Kelly Cowles, who was under investigation by the Ohio Inspector General for mismanaging a similar grant.
And the ostensible recipient of Flores' largesse, with an assist from the well-connected Cummins?
Victory Outreach describes itself as a "church-oriented Christian ministry called to the task of evangelizing and disciplining the hurting people of the world, with the message of hope and plan of Jesus Christ."
Now that sounds like a real plan for addressing juvenile delinquency. Good news indeed...that Mukasey has put an end to the politicization of the Justice Department, I mean.