Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Inside Look at Corruption in BushWorld

We learned yesterday that U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey does not intend to seek prosecution of Justice Department employees who improperly used political litmus tests in hiring decisions.

(By the way, Mukasey received a much-deserved public spanking from The New York Times for his weasly speech yesterday before a meeting of the American Bar Association.)

Mukasey's attempt to cover up for loyal "Bushie" ideologues makes it even more important that citizens understand what really has been going at the DOJ. One of the most detailed accounts so far of corruption in the Bush Justice Department comes from reporter Joe Palazzolo at Legal Times.

The full Palazzolo piece is available to subscribers only, but we have some highlights that show how underlings like Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson were allowed to run amok.

Here is an overview of the report about hiring practices in the Bush DOJ:

The report places the blame for the political manipulation primarily on two top aides to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: Monica Goodling, the White House liaison, and D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff. Both have been accused of breaking federal civil service laws and DOJ policy in using politics to vet applicants for career jobs. But the report does something else. It provides the most detailed account yet of the inner workings of the Justice Department during the period of January 2004 to April 2007, and it shows how the two young aides were assisted in their effort by more senior officials who either actively helped their cause—or quietly acquiesced.

The effort ranged from placing what they called "good Americans" in everything from temporary Main Justice slots to career judgeships in the federal immigration courts. More than 480 lawyers interviewed for career and political positions were tested with queries like, "Tell us about your political philosophy."

The Legal Times piece portrays Goodling as an expert power monger:

Monica Goodling knew how to work the system. In January 2006, just three months after coming aboard Attorney General Gonzales' staff as counsel, Goodling started rewriting the rules on the way DOJ lawyers were hired. First, she went to the Justice Man­agement Division and ordered the office to strip hiring authority from the deputy attorney general. When the division questioned whether the idea would put too much of a burden on the attorney general, Goodling volunteered a simple solution: craft an internal order allowing the attorney general to delegate the authority to his White House liaison and chief of staff. Weeks later, Goodling became the White House liaison. She and Sampson, who likewise reconfigured the hiring process for immigration judges, used their newfound powers to improperly seed DOJ career slots and short-term details with Republican lawyers and friends, according to the July 28 report by the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility.

How easy was it for a "loyal Bushie" to be selected to an important position? Legal Times provides the details:

When Mark Metcalf, then a lawyer in the Civil Rights Division who had worked on the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, expressed an interest in becoming an immigration judge, all it took was an e-mail. "Immigration judge?" wrote White House liaison Jan Williams in an August 2005 message to Sampson, then a counselor to Attorney General Ashcroft. Sampson responded the same day: "Ok." Not long after, Williams formally offered Metcalf a position in Orlando, Fla., without interviewing him. Neither she nor Sampson thought to tell Kevin Ohlson, the deputy director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review. From 2004 to 2007, in violation of civil service laws, Sampson, Williams, and Goodling hired about 40 immigration judges, most of whom came recommended by the White House or Republicans in Congress. Sampson told investigators he thought immigration judgeships were political positions. They are not.

When folks hear about a "Monica Problem," they tend to think of Bill Clinton. But the Bush DOJ had its own Monica Problem:

When Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked (Inspector General Glenn) Fine last week how it was that "a 33-year-old was able to rule the day," Fine answered, pointedly, that too few DOJ officials were willing to challenge Goodling—let alone supervise her. The report cites Justice officials for brooking Goodling's decisions to block "politically unreliable" career candidates from details in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the Office of Legal Policy, and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General." Senior officials in these offices sometimes objected to Goodling's decisions, and argued with her about the quality of these candidates," the report says. "Sometimes their appeals were successful, but more often they were not." On at least 10 occasions noted in the report, officials shrank from a fight with Goodling.

What's ahead in the investigation of the Bush DOJ:

It's said the healing starts when the wounding stops. There are two more inspector general reports to come—one on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and another about politicization of the Civil Rights Divi­sion—but Justice officials, including Attorney General Michael Mukasey, maintain that the department is the better for the pain. . . .

Mukasey has limited the department's communication with the White House, reinforced merit system principles—particularly within the department's Honors Program, the subject of a June inspector general report—and pledged to adopt the recommendations in the most recent report, which include clarifying department policies on whether politics may play a role in the selection of career attorneys to fill temporary details.

Only one of the officials accused of violating civil service laws and DOJ policy—John Nowacki, who was deputy director of the EOUSA in the period covered by the report—remains at the department. "We are reviewing the report and considering what, if any, actions should be taken based upon the findings contained in the report," says Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

Goodling, now a consultant based in Northern Virginia, and Sampson, a partner at Hunton & Williams in the District, could face sanctions by their state bars, but it's unlikely they'll see anything more serious. "We did not think there was a sufficient basis for criminal prosecution for false statements," Fine told senators last week.

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