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Internal Inquiry: Justice Dept. Officials Broke Law


The Justice Department has just released an internal investigation saying some of its most senior former officials broke the law. People like the chief of staff and senior counselor to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez considered partisan affiliations when they hired people for jobs that are supposed to be free from politics. The report comes out of an investigation into the firing of seven U.S. attorneys.

NPR'S Ari Shapiro has been reading the report and joins us to talk about what the department inspector general found. Welcome.

ARI SHAPIRO: Good morning.

AMOS: Let talk about big picture. What do you know about the Justice Department from this report that we didn't know before?

SHAPIRO: Well, at the Justice Department there are all of these walls set up to protect the career law enforcement officials from the political people. This is so that the public knows that law enforcement is not influenced by politics. And this report just illuminates some of the many ways in which during the tenure of Attorney General John Ashcraft and then even more under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, those walls essentially crumbled and there was no line between those two things in many respects.

AMOS: The news of this report is that some senior officials at the department broke the law. Who are they?

SHAPIRO: Well, the report focuses mostly on Monica Goodling, who was senior counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It also talks about Kyle Sampson, who was Gonzales's chief of staff. Both of them have left the department. But there are also people who were involved with this who have not left the department. For example, there's a guy named John Navotsky(ph), who used to work in the press office - I dealt with him quite a bit; he's on detail to Iraq now - he's cited in here for putting out a press release knowing that it was false, saying we didn't use partisan considerations when in fact he knew that they did.

The people who are know longer at the department cannot be disciplined by the Justice Department, but the House Judiciary Committee now says it's talking about potentially looking for criminal charges to come out of this.

AMOS: Let's talk specifically. How exactly did they do the screening that took political considerations into consideration?

SHAPIRO: There was a range of things. They would do Internet research. They would use questionnaires. They would also ask questions during job interviews. So imagine you're in an interview for a job at the Justice Department that is supposed to be free from politics, and according to this report Monica Goodling would ask, What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him? Or: Aside from the president, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire. She would also ask people applying for these jobs, supposed to be free from politics: Why are you a Republican?

And according to this report, one candidate said that after he said he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Goodling frowned and commented: But she's pro-choice. This report also confirms a story that NPR broke a few months ago about a woman named Leslie Hagen who was fired over a rumor that she was lesbian; the report says Goodling decided she shouldn't have the job she was in and prevented her from getting other jobs.

And the people who Goodling hired on these partisan affiliations, on these partisan considerations, are now in U.S. attorneys offices around the country, in some cases at the main Justice Department, and a lot of them are immigration judges, which is where this had some of the biggest impacts.

AMOS: And what do you think will happen to these people who actually broke the law?

SHAPIRO: Well, they may have their law license removed. This report only came out an hour ago, so it's too early to say. As I mentioned, the House Judiciary Committee is considering criminal referrals. And then the question is what will happen at the Justice Department itself. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he has implemented many of the changes that the report asked for. He's made it clear again and again partisan considerations have no place in this respect and that he says he's just going to keep hammering away at that and make the changes that this report calls for.

AMOS: Thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

AMOS: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.

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