Democrats lamented loudly Wednesday that disgraced aides to former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales including two former Utahns will escape criminal charges for their illegal rejection of Democrats and liberals for career positions. That is because the aides violated only civil law, not criminal law.
"It looks like they got away with it scot-free," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., added, "This sticks in a lot of people's craws."
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine delivered the news to the committee that such officials violated civil law, not criminal law, so no charges appear possible. And because most have left the Justice Department, they face no disciplinary action there either.
Former Utahns involved include Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, 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.
A report released earlier this week by Fine said both violated federal law and department policy in the hiring of career immigration judges when they screened to see if applicants were loyal, conservative Republicans. The report accused Sampson of misconduct, but it said Williams was not a lawyer and operated under what she thought were lawful instructions from Sampson.
"They broke the law. They did that as political partisans and cronies," lamented Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about numerous officials caught up in the scandal. Schumer added the situation shows "that simply because you resign from the department, you escape any punishment."
But Fine said the officials do face consequences, if not criminal charges.
"Their conduct was exposed in a transparent way for all to see," he said. "They will never be hired again by the department, and hopefully never again by the federal government."
He added that investigators will notify some state bar associations about some former aides' involvement in illegal activity, which could lead to disbarment or other discipline. Sampson is among those involved who who are lawyers, and he is now in private practice.
Fine also noted that his office is not finished looking at possible misconduct. It is continuing to investigate the dismissal of numerous U.S. attorneys, possibly for political reasons. Sampson resigned during controversy over that in 2005, and he acknowledged before Congress that he "badly mishandled" those terminations.
The report earlier this week said several officials gave misleading comments to investigators which could be a violation of criminal law. But Fine told the committee that seasoned prosecutors felt obtaining convictions would be difficult, so they do not plan to pursue charges on that either.
Fine also told the committee he found no credible evidence to link Gonzales or the White House to the politicization of career positions. But he criticized both for elevating what he said were relatively junior, inexperienced people to high positions in the Justice Department, and then not closely supervising their activities some of which were illegal.
Fine also told the committee that civil service laws protect the people who likely benefitted from the illegal politicizing of hiring.
He said some people hired through the tarnished process likely were not well qualified and did not survive their probation period. Of the 230 or so current immigration judges, Fine said 30 to 40 were hired through the tarnished processes."It is difficult if not impossible to see if they are qualified now" after they have already been hired and are serving, he said. Fine said the department should watch their conduct and if problems are seen, take action to remove them for cause.