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Tracing Patterns In Politicized Hiring At Justice Dept.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And now to the Bush administration. When Monica Goodling left the Justice Department a year ago, she told members of Congress she crossed the line. Now the Justice Department's inspector general said she and others broke the law. Goodling was the department's White House liaison and senior counselor to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She and others used partisan, political questions to screen applicants for jobs that were supposed to be non-political.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has more.

ARI SHAPIRO: Job interviews with Monica Goodling often strayed to talk of abortion and gay marriage, even when the people were interviewing for non-political jobs in areas that had nothing to do with abortion or gay marriage. Goodling regularly asked job applicants questions like, what is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

When one applicant said he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Goodling frowned and said, but she's pro-choice. According to a report by the Justice Department's inspector general, this was the pattern for hundreds of job interviews.

Mr. MICHAEL BROMWICH (Former Inspector General, Justice Department): It's something that I've never seen before, and I think that's because it hasn't happened before.

SHAPIRO: Michael Bromwich was the department's last inspector general.

Mr. BROMWICH: I don't think anybody should understate how serious a stain this is on the Department of Justice. And for those of us who have served there for many years, it's very painful to see yet another set of examples where a supposedly non-political set of positions were auctioned off on political grounds.

SHAPIRO: A Justice Department report last month showed that political officials at the department illegally screened entry-level lawyers based on their politics. This report says they used the same filter for top career prosecutors and immigration judges.

Goodling kept one experienced counter-terrorism prosecutor out of a job because his wife was a Democrat. The guy who ended up in the job was much less qualified.

She ousted another lawyer over a rumor about the woman's sexual orientation. NPR first broke that story last spring. The woman's name is Leslie Hagen. Her lawyer, Lisa Banks, says Goodling's actions devastated Hagen's career.

Ms. LISA BANKS (Attorney): Every time Ms. Hagen was blocked from getting a position, it turned out that Ms. Goodling was behind it. And all of this was based on rumors and speculation.

SHAPIRO: The report says the most systemic problem came in hiring immigration judges. Kyle Sampson was chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales. Sampson tapped immigration judges based on recommendations from the White House Office of Political Affairs, even though they're supposed to be non-political jobs.

Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association says you can see the difference Sampson made. She describes today's immigration judges as more conservative and less experienced in immigration than 10 years ago.

Ms. CRYSTAL WILLIAMS (American Immigration Lawyers' Association): These appointees are still sitting on the immigration bench. Some of them even have been promoted to the Board of Immigration Appeals. And at the same time, qualified individuals who may not have been as politically acceptable are not sitting on the immigration bench.

SHAPIRO: This report says the illegal political screening process for judges, quote, "caused significant delays in appointing immigration judges at a time when the immigration courts were experiencing an increased workload and a high vacancy rate." Kyle Sampson's lawyer, Brad Berenson, read from a statement.

Mr. BRAD BERENSON (Attorney): (Reading) With respect to immigration judges, he believed in complete good faith that they were not career civil-service positions and that political criteria could be taken into account.

SHAPIRO: Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he's disturbed by the report's findings. He said he wants to make sure, quote, "the conduct described in this report does not occur again at the department." Some former officials think that's not enough.

Ms. JAMIE GORELICK (Former Deputy Attorney General): I'd like to see some accountability here.

SHAPIRO: Jamie Gorelick was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. She says people who were rejected for jobs need to be encouraged to re-apply. But for those who were hired improperly, it's a tougher question. On the one hand, she says, you don't want unqualified political hacks in sensitive positions. On the other hand…

Ms. GORELICK: The vision of going around the department to root out people who were inappropriately hired has a distasteful quality of its own.

SHAPIRO: There may be more painful revelations ahead for the department. This is the second part of a wide-ranging investigation. Still to come, inspector general reports on the civil rights division, U.S. attorney firings and Alberto Gonzales himself. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. 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.

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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