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Talking Points: Prosecutors Politicized

"Whenever politics has permeated the decision-making or the atmosphere at the Department of Justice, the consequences for the nation have been grave." - Ted Olson

“The Justice Department and its officials traditionally have been held to a standard of independence and non-partisanship not expected at other federal agencies.” So said Theodore Olson, President Bush’s lead counsel in Bush v. Gore and former Solicitor General, in 2000. “Whenever that barrier has been breached in the past, whenever politics has permeated the decision-making or the atmosphere at the Department of Justice, as occurred in Watergate, the consequences for the nation have been grave.” The breaches of the Bush administration in this regard are perhaps unparalleled. Among the revelations just this week: that a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have broken the law by using “political affiliation in deciding who to hire as entry-level prosecutors;” that the Justice Department’s hiring process was politicized beyond the attorneys to non-civil-service employees; and that members of Congress are so concerned about partisan prosecutions they have requested that the DOJ’s inspector general provide details about public corruption investigations organized “by the party affiliation of their targets.”

  • The administration repeatedly tried to fill vacancies for career prosecutors only with Republicans loyal to the Bush administration. On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that it had launched an internal investigation into whether Monica Goodling — former counsel to Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House —  “tried to fill vacancies for career prosecutors at the agency with Republicans loyal to the Bush administration.” If Goodling did seek to determine the political affiliations of job applicants before they were hired as prosecutors, that is “potentially a violation of civil service laws and a break with a tradition of nonpartisanship in the career ranks at the Justice Department.” The accusations against Goodling are “the most serious thing[s] I have heard come up in this entire controversy,” Comey said during yesterday’s hearing.

  • The Justice Department moved to silence the fired prosecutors as the scandal grew. More details have emerged this week showing that the Justice Department initiated an effort to silence several U.S. attorneys after learning that Congress planned to investigate their firings. Purged U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton told Congress that Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, called him and warned that Alberto Gonzales would publicly disparage his record unless he stayed quiet. “I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the Attorney General’s,” Charlton wrote in answer to questions from the House Judiciary Committee. Fired prosecutor Carol Lam said Elston “wanted her to pretend as though it was her decision to leave office.”
  • Gonzales’ testimony has once again been contradicted by one of his aides. During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, Gonzales maintained that the fired attorneys had performance problems, and that the decision to push them out was “justified and should stand.” But yesterday, Comey “lavished praise” on seven of the eight attorneys whose performance Gonzales disparaged. Comey “described Paul Charlton of Arizona as ‘one of the best,’ said he had a ‘very positive view’ of David Iglesias of New Mexico, and called Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas ‘straight as a Nevada highway and a fired-up guy.’ Of John McKay of Seattle, Comey said: ‘I was inspired by him,” and Carol Lam of San Diego was a “a fine U.S. attorney.”