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Investigator: Political Bias a Factor in US Justice Department Hiring

The inspector general at the Justice Department says a top aide to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used political considerations in screening candidates for employment at the agency in violation of federal law. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill, where Fine presented his report.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, inspector general Glenn Fine said a top adviser to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling, improperly used partisan considerations in the hiring of agency lawyers and immigration judges.

"We concluded that Goodling regularly considered political affiliations in screening candidates for career positions at the department, which also was misconduct and violated department policy and federal civil service law," said Fine.

Fine says Goodling chose candidates seen as pro-Republican and supportive of President Bush and rejected those she deemed too liberal.

"This was particularly damaging to the department because it resulted in high quality candidates to important details [jobs] being rejected in favor of less qualified candidates," he said.

Federal law and Justice Department policy require that career officials be hired on merit, and prohibit discrimination based on political affiliations - a point noted by committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

"By infusing politics into the hiring of career assistant attorney positions, senior career attorney positions, main Justice detailees, young career attorneys, and immigration judges, this administration and its operative have done serious damage to the rule of law," he said.

Inspector General Fine blames the situation on a lack of oversight, but says there is no evidence that former Attorney General Gonzales was aware of Goodling's actions.

Fine described one case in which Goodling rejected a terrorism prosecutor for a job in counter-terrorism at the department because his wife was involved in local Democratic Party politics, and chose a less experienced lawyer.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, says there are serious implications to the actions.

"These revelations are not just a blow to the department's reputation, but they also affect our ability to keep the country safe, it seems," he said.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who succeeded Gonzales, issued a statement saying he is disturbed by the findings of the inspector general. That statement did not go far enough for Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

"I would like to see, frankly, a very forceful statement out of the Department of Justice as to what they intend to do, and what they think about it in some detail," said Specter. "They have the prosecution responsibility."

Fine says the Justice Department has taken steps to ensure that political considerations are no longer used to screen applicants. Goodling no longer works at the department.