Top aides to former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales including two former Utahns illegally allowed politics to influence the selection of career prosecutors and immigration judges, a Justice Department probe concluded Monday.
The Utahns involved are Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and Jan Williams, a former Justice Department liaison to the White House. Both are graduates of Brigham Young University, and Sampson was born in Cedar City.
They, plus Monica Goodling, another departmental White House liaison, "violated federal law and department policy" by rejecting Democrats or liberals for supposedly nonpolitical Justice Department jobs, according to a report by that department's inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The report said Sampson who resigned in March 2007 amid a scandal over the firing of numerous U.S. attorneys violated the law "and committed misconduct" by injecting politics into the selection of immigration judges.
The report said Sampson knew the department had historically treated such judges as "career" positions, where their politics and ideology cannot be considered legally in their applications. But he said a discussion with the deputy director of the executive office overseeing such judges led him to believe they could be considered "political" appointees.
However, officials there told investigators they never told Sampson that the immigration judges were not subject to civil service requirements, which investigators said they believed.
"Even if Sampson was confused or mistaken in his interpretation of the rules that applied to IJ (immigration judge) hiring, we do not believe that would excuse his actions," the report said.
"His actions, which were carried out over a lengthy period of time and were not based on formal advice from anyone, systematically violated federal law and department policy and constituted misconduct," it said.
It adds, "Similarly, Jan Williams violated department policy and federal law by considering political or ideological affiliations in the appointment of IJs." It notes that at one point, Sampson delegated to her much of the work for identifying and selecting such candidates.
The report quotes her telling investigators, "Mr. Sampson is a lawyer and as chief of staff to the attorney general, I assume that if he had asked me to call someone, it was appropriate for me to do so."
The report said that like Sampson, Williams turned to the White House Office of Political Affairs and the White House Presidential Personnel office to obtain candidates, or even the conservative Federalist Society, while ignoring candidates proposed by the executive office overseeing immigration judges, "which was becoming increasingly desperate to fill vacancies."
The report said while she used political criteria to screen candidates, she "was not an attorney and was following her supervisor's guidance" so it did not accuse her of "misconduct." It did, however, conclude that "Williams provided inaccurate information to us concerning her Internet research activities."
Meanwhile, the report said Goodling committed misconduct in consideration of immigration judges and departmental prosecutors. It said Goodling reported that Sampson told her that immigration judges were not subject to civil service rules, and she "assumed" the prosecutors were not either.
The report said Goodling once objected to hiring an assistant prosecutor because "judging from his resume, he appeared to be a liberal Democrat."
Another time, it said Goodling rejected hiring an experienced terrorism prosecutor "because of his wife's political affiliations." The report said she rejected at least one applicant because she was rumored to be a lesbian.
The report noted, "Because Goodling, Sampson and Williams have resigned from the department, they are no longer subject to discipline by the department for their actions described in this report." It was silent about whether legal charges could come.
But House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said the report "indicates that Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson and Alberto Gonzales may have lied to the Congress about these matters. I have directed my staff to closely review this matter and to consider whether a criminal referral for perjury is needed."
Also, the Alliance for Justice, a liberal think tank, issued a call Monday for a broader investigation and possible prosecution. "Those who violate our trust by committing illegal acts during their tenure with the department must be appropriately punished," said director Nan Aron.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a hearing about politicization at the Justice Department on Wednesday. Its chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the report shows the Bush administration "encouraged politicization of the (Justice) Department and permitted these excesses."
He said such things as rejecting experienced terrorism prosecutors for less experienced attorneys based on political ideology show that "rather than strengthening our national security, the Department of Justice appears to have bent to the political will of the administration."
Current Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who replaced Gonzales, said he was disturbed by the report's findings and said his department has made changes to ensure that improper political influence does not recur."The Justice Department has made many institutional changes to remedy the problems discussed in today's report, and the report itself commends these changes," he said.
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