|IMPROPER PROCEDURES The inquiry faulted Monica Goodling (left), saying she asked career job applicants about politics and their views on abortion and gay marriage.|
Justice Dept. report concludes aides broke law
Finds politics dictated hiring for career jobs
WASHINGTON - For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a "farm system" for Republicans at the Justice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.
That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage, and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department's second-in-command.
An extensive report by the department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility concluded yesterday that Goodling and others had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in "misconduct," a finding that could expose them to further scrutiny and sanctions. The report depicted Goodling as a central figure in politicizing employment decisions at Justice during the Bush administration.
Goodling declined to cooperate with investigators, who instead interviewed 85 witnesses and scoured documents and computer hard drives to prepare their report. Last year, she trembled as she told the House Judiciary Committee that she "crossed the line" by asking improper questions of job seekers to gauge their political leanings.
But the report and accounts from lawyers who worked alongside Goodling, 34, at the Justice Department provide a far more extensive examination of her dominance during her time as the department's White House liaison and counselor to the attorney general. One source said staff members called her "she who must be obeyed."
Thirty-four candidates told investigators that Goodling or one of her deputies raised the topic of abortion in job interviews and 21 said they discussed same-sex marriage, the report said. Another job applicant said he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, only to watch Goodling "frown" and respond, "But she's prochoice."
Goodling and her aides regularly gave candidates for career civil service jobs a form designed for political appointees that sought information on party affiliation and financial contributions. When job seekers sometimes raised objections, Goodling replied that the form was a mistake, showing that she was "aware that it was improper," the report said.
John M. Dowd, a lawyer for Goodling, said yesterday that his client deserved praise, not scorn, for her "exceptional candor" with Congress last year. "Each and every one of the core conclusions of the OIG/OPR report . . . is consistent with and indeed derived from Ms. Goodling's testimony," he said.
The 140-page report appeared to confirm the suspicions of congressional Democrats and raised fresh questions about the reputation of the Justice Department, which has been roiled since the resignations of more than a dozen top officials last year, including Goodling, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, and Gonzales's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. The report also found that Sampson had engaged in misconduct by systematically involving politics in the hiring of immigration judges.
Investigators cited discrepancies in information provided by Goodling, Sampson, and former press aide John Nowacki. But they stopped short of concluding that the conduct rose to the level of a criminal violation.
John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that he had directed his staff to consider whether there were grounds to refer allegedly inconsistent statements for possible criminal prosecution. Attorneys for the former Justice Department officials scoffed at the idea, and independent lawyers following the case said it was likely that officials who had left the department would face only ethics inquiries in connection with breaking civil service laws.