A second report has found political views were improperly considered, and in some cases the top consideration, in hiring decisions at the Department of Justice. While it is helpful that Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants to ensure such a situation doesn’ t happen again, much more is needed. The department must assure the public and lawmakers that the improper hirings have not and will not affect its mission of upholding the country’ s laws.
It is not much of a leap to think that people hired for their political views are apt to interpret laws in ways that comport with those views. The department must show that this is not happening.
A report by the Department of Justice’ s Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility found that employees at the department had “violated federal law and department policy” by considering ideology and political affiliations and actions in hiring decisions. They then tried to cover this up.
The chief target of the investigation was Monica Goodling, who held several positions at the department, including White House liaison, before resigning last year. During interviews for career, nonpolitical jobs in the department, she and her deputies often asked about abortion and same-sex marriage. Ms. Goodling also asked candidates why they were Republicans and what type of conservative they were, according to the report. One candidate won praise from Goodling for being “pro-God in public life,” the report said.
In an instance the Justice Department investigators called “particularly damaging,” in 2006 Ms. Goodling refused to hire a veteran assistant U.S. attorney, who had prosecuted the Lackawanna Six terrorism conspirators and won the Attorney General’ s Award for Exceptional Service, because his wife was active in Democratic politics. Instead of this prosecutor with counterterrorism experience, which was a posted requirement of this job, a Republican who had been an assistant U.S. attorney for only three years and had no counterterrorism experience was hired.
“As a result, a much less experienced, but politically acceptable, attorney was assigned this important responsibility,” the report concluded.
According to others who worked in the Attorney General’ s Office, Ms. Goodling said she didn’ t want Democrats because she had a “farm system” approach to filling vacancies and she wanted to bring in Republicans so that they could move on to higher political positions.
Since it is unlikely that Ms. Goodling took this action on her own, further investigation should focus on who was pushing her to pursue this strategy. Then, Attorney General Mukasey must show that the pressure has stopped and that the department’ s hiring practices have changed.
More difficult is dealing with the long-term results of this inappropriate activity. Immigration judges who passed Ms. Goodling’ s credentials may serve for decades and the department is already defending itself from several lawsuits filed by attorneys who didn’ t get jobs there.
Most important is restoring public faith that the Justice Department is focused on its a mission of upholding the law, not doing an administration’ s political bidding.