Former U.S. Justice Department official Monica Goodling has received a public reprimand from the Virginia State Bar for her role in unlawfully mixing political considerations and hiring decisions in the George W. Bush administration.
What should the public take from this farcical outcome? We can think of at least two key points:
* President Barack Obama might have secured a sense of justice regarding Osama bin Laden, but Americans should be deeply concerned about the administration's efforts to provide cover for Bush-era bad actors.
* State bar associations, in too many cases, are incapable of policing rogue lawyers--and the public should have little, if any, confidence in these organizations. Can state bars be inconsistent? We are aware of a case in Alabama, which we soon will be covering in depth, where a lawyer received a one-year suspension for making statements in court documents that proved to be . . . absolutely true. In fact, the opposing party admitted the statements were true, but the lawyer still faces a one-year suspension. And Monica Goodling gets a public reprimand for helping to befoul our federal justice department? Do legal watchdogs expect to be taken seriously?
Why did a subcommittee of the Virginia State Bar even bother to slap Goodling on the wrist? Legal Times reports:
The subcommittee found that Goodling violated a bar rule against misconduct when she “improperly utilized political affiliation and other political considerations when making hiring decisions for career positions.” Goodling admitted to doing so while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee under oath in May 2007, the order says.
“I crossed the line of the civil service rules,” she said then, according to the order. “I believe I crossed the lines. But I didn’t mean to.”
She didn't mean to? This from a woman whose interview questions, put to candidates for career, non-political jobs, included, "Why are you a Republican?"
By the way, Goodling made the above admission only after asserting her Fifth Amendment rights before Congress and agreeing to testify under a grant of immunity. How did the Justice Department handle this "public servant" who admitted to crossing legal boundaries? Reports Virginia Lawyers Weekly:
After her testimony, the Justice Department conducted an investigation of her conduct and other allegations of improper political considerations in the department. The Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General issued a lengthy joint report in July 2008 that did not refer her conduct for criminal investigation.
Because she had resigned her position before the administrative investigation was concluded, the department took no disciplinary action against her.
That came under the Bush DOJ, which apparently had a doctrine that went something like this: "You can commit all kinds of wrongdoing, but if you resign when you're under fire, everything will be OK." Has the Obama DOJ been any better? Nope. It has made no move to reopen the case against Monica Goodling.
The DOJ report indicates Ms. Monica's actions are worth a second look. On page 45 of the report, from the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General, we find this:
In sum, we concluded that the evidence showed that Goodling violated both federal law and Department policy, and therefore committed misconduct, when she considered political or ideological affiliations in hiring decisions for candidates for career positions within the Department.
On page 122 of the report, we learn this about Goodling's behavior:
Finally, we concluded that Goodling engaged in misconduct by making misrepresentations to the Civil Division attorneys representing the Department in the Gonzalez v. Gonzales litigation. An attorney from the Civil Division interviewed Goodling in January 2007 to learn how the OAG had handled the IJ hiring process. In the interview, Goodling told the attorney that she did not take political considerations into account in IJ hiring. The Civil Division attorney’s recollection of this point was specific and was corroborated by the memoranda he wrote contemporaneously and circulated within the Department in connection with deliberations about how to handle the lawsuit.
Bottom line? Monica Goodling violated federal law and then lied about it in an official proceeding. And her punishment is a public reprimand?
Perhaps most alarming is this: The DOJ, under both Bush and Obama, apparently has made no effort to follow the trail of sleaze to its origin. We know that Goodling took directions from her boss, Kyle Sampson. It certainly stands to reason that Sampson took directions from Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. And the DOJ report hints that the whole process was driven by the White House Office of Political Affairs, led by . . . Karl Rove.
Consider this from page 86 of the report, regarding the appointment of immigration judges (IJ) through the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR):
We found that the majority of candidates provided to EOIR by Sampson were from the White House Office of Political Affairs. For example, in September 2004, the Office of Political Affairs provided Sampson with the résumé of a candidate for an IJ position in El Paso, Texas. Sampson instructed EOIR to “reach out to” the candidate, and the candidate was eventually appointed as an IJ.
It probably would not take a super sleuth to connect these dots right to Rove's doorstep. But the Obama administration seems to be unwilling to do that. After all, that would involve "looking backwards"--and we mustn't do that. The president can order all kinds of daring missions to shoot Al Qaeda leaders in the head. But as long as he lets Bush crooks off the hook, his record on justice issues will be an embarrassment.
Monica Goodling was just one of many Bush officials who committed "acts of terror" against our constitution. She played a major role in corrupting the hiring process for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Because of Goodling, numerous unqualified lawyers now serve in the DOJ. Because of Goodling, numerous qualified lawyers do not serve in the DOJ. Because of Goodling, and many others, our justice department was used as a political tool.
Some pundits have stated that the killing of bin Laden almost assures Obama's re-election in 2012. But serious voters should look closely at Obama's overall justice record. The Monica Goodling episode is just the latest sign that his performance has been shameful.