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Bush aide admits hiring boasts

Says he broke no rules giving jobs to conservatives

Bradley Schlozman was questioned yesterday by Democrats in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bradley Schlozman was questioned yesterday by Democrats in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

WASHINGTON -- A Bush administration official admitted yesterday that he had boasted about hiring conservatives and Republicans at the Justice Department, but he nevertheless insisted that he broke no civil service rules against taking partisan affiliation into account when hiring government lawyers.

Bradley Schlozman, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his record as a supervisor at the Civil Rights Division from 2003 to 2006, said he never asked questions about job applicants' political views or partisan affiliation. Under civil service laws, politics cannot be used as a factor when hiring career nonpartisan prosecutors and other lawyers.

His testimony followed the admission last month by a former Justice Department official, Monica Goodling, that she had "crossed the line" and used a political litmus test when hiring for nonpartisan positions, contrary to civil service laws. Goodling received prosecutorial immunity in exchange for her testimony, unlike Schlozman.

Democrats on the committee heatedly questioned Schlozman throughout the two-hour hearing, the latest installment in the ongoing probe into the firing of nine US attorneys last year and broader allegations of politicization at the Justice Department.

"Did you ever boast to anyone that you had hired a certain number of Republicans or conservatives for any division or section at the Department of Justice?" asked Senator Charles Schumer , Democrat of New York.

Replied Schlozman, "I probably have made statements like that."

Schlozman also acknowledged under questioning that he had personally reached out to the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation for suggestions about potential hires, but had not done the same at similar liberal organizations.

His testimony had been widely anticipated because former career Justice Department officials have accused Schlozman of trying to "remake" the Civil Rights Division in a more conservative mold. During Schlozman's tenure at the Civil Rights Division, prior experience in civil rights among newly hired civil service attorneys plunged, while conservative credentials rose, résumés show.

Last week, the Justice Department's inspector general told Congress that his office is now expanding its investigation of the US attorney firings to include allegations of politicized hiring practices throughout the department, with a special focus on the Civil Rights Division. Schlozman said he had not yet been interviewed by the inspector general, but he expected to be.

Throughout the hearing, Schlozman sat hunched and alone at the witness table with his hands clasped tightly. No Republican senator attended the hearing, allowing Democrats to grill him without respite.

Schlozman's testimony was also anticipated because Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales installed him as the first replacement US attorney last year after the firings began, though he had no prior trial experience. Schlozman went on to serve 13 months as the top prosecutor in the western district of Missouri, bypassing Senate confirmation.

Democrats focused on an incident less than a week before the 2006 election, when Schlozman brought four voter-registration fraud indictments against workers for a liberal group.

A department election-crime manual instructs US attorneys to wait until after ballots are cast to bring charges, lest the investigation become a campaign issue or otherwise influence the outcome. Missouri Republicans used the indictments to bash Democrats late in the campaign.

Schlozman said that he received permission from Justice Department headquarters to bring the charges when he did. He said he has e-mails proving that he was told that he was allowed to bring the indictments right before the election because voter-registration fraud cases do not involve interviewing voters.

But Democrats expressed incredulity, saying that nothing in the written text of the policy says anything about an exception for voter-registration fraud cases. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy , Democrat of Vermont, told Schlozman to give the e-mails to Congress.

The controversy over the Missouri indictments also led to a heated retort from Leahy, who had asked Schlozman why he didn't wait until after the election to bring the case.

"The Department of Justice does not time prosecutions to elections," Schlozman said.

Shouted Leahy: "Yes they do! That's what the manual says!"

Testifying later in the day, Schlozman's predecessor as the US attorney in western Missouri, Todd Graves , who was ordered to resign in January 2006, said he had been "surprised" by the timing of the indictments because of the policy.

A desire to bring more vote-fraud cases was a factor in deliberations about which US attorneys to replace, documents and testimony have shown.

White House political adviser Karl Rove has accused Democrats of trying to steal elections, while Democrats have called the crackdowns an attempt to suppress turnout among legitimate voters.