Politicizing the Department of Justice

Bump and Update (TL): The full report is here.(pdf)


The Justice Department finally gets around to confirming old news:

Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used “political or ideological” factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.

Remember Monica "I didn't mean to" Goodling?

It's particularly troubling that the Civil Rights Division was filled with lawyers who don't much care about civil rights. [more ...]

The blocking of applicants with liberal credentials appeared to be a particular problem in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which has seen an exodus of career employees in recent years as the department has pursued a more conservative agenda in deciding what types of cases to bring. Applications that contained what were seen as “leftist commentary” or “buzz words” like environmental and social justice were often grounds for rejecting applicants, according to e-mails reviewed by the inspector general’s office.

Yeah, we sure wouldn't want anyone who cares about social justice working in the Justice Department. Instead:

Affiliation with the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative group, was viewed positively.

Affiliation with its progressive counterpart, the American Constitution Society, was seen as a "negative mark."

John Conyers:

"When it comes to the hiring of nonpartisan career attorneys," Mr. Conyers said, "our system of justice should not be corrupted by partisan politics. It appears the politicization at Justice was so pervasive that even interns had to pass a partisan litmus test."

Wouldn't want a liberal fetching coffee for the big shots at Justice, after all.

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    the question now (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 11:43:41 AM EST
    it seems to me, is what do we do about it?
    even if there is a new democratic administration how much can they really do to undo the damage?
    its a serious question.  I have no idea.

    This will take more than one administration to fix (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by aquarian on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:04:17 PM EST
    Generally speaking, government positions are either political appointment or career service.  When the administration changes, you expect political appointees to reflect the ideology and political agenda of the current administration.

    The stability of government, however, has always been vested in career staff --those highly experienced administrators below the top level who have seen it all before and concentrate on "limiting the damage" of the change in administration.  This is really a checks and balance system.  Political appointees always have grand visions about how to change the landscape of government.  Good career staff make sure that really bad ideas don't get implemented, or, if the political appointee is persistent, they find a way to let the sun shine and encourage broader, more public scrutiny.

    The legacy of Bush and his Federalist Society wingnuts is that the career staff were forced out in droves -- throughout all government, not just DOJ.  Bush's wingnuts then hired career wingnuts who in turned hired more wingnuts as minions.  Getting rid of the wing nuts is only half a solution.  The damage is that government has lost its experienced and competent staff.

    Experience and competency takes years to develop, and the government is going to be rudderless, in my view, for another decade.  Strong leadership from political appointees will be critical.



    Yes, because it's these career bureaucratic (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:14:24 PM EST
    that we're so desperately needing:
    The Clinton Administration's War on Privacy
    by Sheldon Richman, July 1996

    The Clinton administration, self-proclaimed champion of civil liberties and small government, is a big fraud.

    President Clinton's Department of Justice, it was recently revealed, is wiretapping more and more American citizens each year. It is increasing the number of federal wiretaps by more than 30 percent annually. What's more, the administration is bulking up the budgets of the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at a frantic pace. Since 1993 the FBI budget has grown 53 percent, the DEA budget 33 percent. That new money permits expanded intrusion into America's telephone communications. And it isn't only wiretapping. Other electronic spying on Americans allows the government to monitor what phone numbers we dial.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my point (5.00 / 3) (#12)
    by aquarian on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:53:06 PM EST
    I did not mean to imply that only republican administrations screwed this up.  Only that this particular administration took purging to an extraordinary level.

    In my experience, many career government employees are not partisan.  The good ones have been around for decades, living through administrations of both stripes.  That experience (and strong stomach to live through the really bad administrations) translates into better government that is responsive.

    Take FEMA for example.  We all know how well that turned out.


    Fair enough. My point, made in a rush (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:16:24 PM EST
    and not well enough, apparently, is that those lamenting the "politicization" of the DOJ may want to think about some things.

    1. Are we sure it was not politicized before?

    2. Are we sure it was working OK before?

    okay (none / 0) (#19)
    by aquarian on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:05:11 PM EST
    I guess the issue is really two issues -- politicization and competency.  As you point out, politicization is always there to a degree. My concern is that competency will be the lingering issue.  

    Huh? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Steve M on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:43:24 PM EST
    This seems like a real non sequitur.

    First, hold the perpetrators (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by HenryFTP on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:28:37 PM EST
    accountable. Here's the whole Report:


    and the conclusions begin at page 92. The individuals responsible should be brought up at least before Bar Disciplinary hearings (just as John Yoo and Bill Haynes and the rest of the torture enablers should be). Steps can and should be taken to ensure that these individuals can never be employed by the Federal government again.

    It will of course be much more difficult to address the problem of ideologues hired by Bushco who now have civil service protection. President Obama should try to ensure that the assistant secretaries and administrators in each Department and Agency responsible for HR are top notch and well resourced for the inevitable stay-behind partisan campaign aimed at sabotaging the new Administration's policies. This will be the White House Travel Office magnified by 1,000, so planning and preparation will be essential.

    A "Washington politics as usual" approach to this will bog down the new Administration in petty "scandals" over stay-behind Bushco incompetents -- thousands of Linda Tripps. Hopefully this Justice Department scandal will be enough of a red flag for the Obama team to recognize that they'll have a big problem on their hands even before the inauguration.  


    Indicting the perps (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:19:50 PM EST
    may also have the added affect of plea-bargaining: talking about the other stuff they did and who ordered it. All of the people mentioned are also smack dab in the middle of the US atty scandals etc. Will they talk about Karl and Harriet and Gonzoles for a lighter slap?

    well that's ironic (none / 0) (#33)
    by hitchhiker on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 03:56:51 PM EST
    the problem of ideologues hired by Bushco who now have civil service protection.

    I thought they didn't believe in civil rights.  Does that mean they forfeit protection?


    i believe we must (none / 0) (#20)
    by dws3665 on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:05:21 PM EST
    legislate immunity for them. They were, after all, only following administration directives.

    forgot something (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by dws3665 on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:07:06 PM EST

    Have they figured out who (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by myiq2xu on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 11:44:10 AM EST
    wrote the list of attorneys to be fired?

    Watching Gonzo say he "didn't recall" in front of Congress was disgusting.

    his flunkies still call him 'judge Gonzalez' (none / 0) (#25)
    by thereyougo on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:34:49 PM EST
    Judge Gonzo needs a refresher course on veracity and the law.

    And What Will Come of All This? (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by The Maven on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 11:48:01 AM EST
    Not much, I fear.

    The worst part of the politicization process, as I've been saying for ages now, is that it has tainted the public's perception of the administration of justice as generally being free of partisan politics -- i.e., a crime is a crime is a crime.  (Violations of civil rights laws being crimes as well, of course.)  Now, however, there is always a sense that perhaps politics is the motivating factor in an investigation or indictment, and that affiliations have become the most important factor.

    Restoring the impartiality of the DOJ -- from the U.S. Attorneys all the way down to the lower-level staffers -- is vital, but is unfortunately something that will take a long time to accomplish now that many of these partisan hires are implanted throughout the Department.  While it will never be seen as a critical issue among the general populace, it is nonetheless imperative for the health of our republic.

    what hopefully will come of this is (none / 0) (#24)
    by thereyougo on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:32:28 PM EST
    no more Repubicans in positions of power.

    What I fear the most is the FDA oversight carreer professionals are now absent, who  followed science before politics.  Madcow is said to have come to US beef.There is Salmonella poisoning  infecting agriculture. Mine disasters, through easing of regulations in mines, on and on.  

    Why is this happening?  Cuts in funding those departments.I don't recall it when Bill Clinton was in charge.  

    Yet Bush wanted to veto the spending bill over extended unemployment benefits to working people.


    They could be brought back in. (none / 0) (#35)
    by Salo on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 05:40:19 PM EST
    After Bush's cronies are culled.

    This Story Leaves Me Incoherent With Rage (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by creeper on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:20:50 PM EST
    They did it.  They got away with it.  "Neener, neener you bleeding hearts."

    Never Before (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by BDB on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:15:02 PM EST
    For those asking the question of whether anything like this has been done before, I've worked for the federal government for more than a decade.  I have friends that have worked in it going back to the Nixon Administration.  No one I know has ever seen this kind of wholesale politicalization of career service jobs before (or agencies and departments generally).  Sure, there are always a few who burrow in, but the extent and brazenness of this is shocking to those of us who have a history in the service.

    BTW, it's not just the Civil Rights Division. Antitrust, Environmental, almost every section has gotten the same treatment, they've just been quieter about it.  No one could be hired at Main DOJ without going through Goodling (that's in the record).  And it's not just Justice.  Check out other agencies like FDA and EPA.  There are blogs by career folks at various agencies that outline some of the damage done.  

    My guess (none / 0) (#4)
    by bocajeff on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 11:59:28 AM EST
    This has always been the case, but just not so blatant.

    Being impartial is in the eye of the beholder. Sort of like the words "judicial activism", "social justice", etc...

    Exactamundo. (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:16:31 PM EST
    And why behold you the mote that is in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own?

    It This Really News? (none / 0) (#8)
    by TearDownThisWall on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:22:29 PM EST
    Don't Dem Administrations place people who are more liberal/ progressive??
    How is this illegal?

    No. Dems are above politics. (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 12:27:32 PM EST
    "We knew the political affiliation of every lawyer and political appointee we hired at the Department of Justice from January 1993 to the end of the Administration," says a former Clinton Department of Justice political appointee. "We kept charts and used them when it came time for new U.S. Attorney nominations, detailee assignments, and other hiring decisions. If you didn't vote Democrat, you weren't going anywhere with us. It was that simple."

    That Was Not My Experience (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by BDB on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:22:34 PM EST
    I didn't work at DOJ, but my experience with Clinton appointees where I did work is that they didn't care about your private political beliefs.  If you did good work for them, including on their policies, they rewarded you.  

    It also doesn't jibe from my limited knowledge of the people who were promoted within the career service at DOJ.  I'm sure nobody got political appointments without their political beliefs being known, but I know folks who were promoted under Reno and Ashcroft.  Now, if you actively fought policies of the Administration or undermined them, you weren't going to be promoted, but that's perfectly permissible.  And I'm sure the higher you got, the more that mattered.  

    But there was nothing like the purge and replacement that went on under Bush during the Clinton Administration. Nor was there anything like it under Bush's father or Reagan.  

    This has been unprecedented.  Although just as the GOP tried to compare the U.S. Attorney firings to what Clinton did, I'm sure we're going to hear that it's not.

    Don't believe it.  


    I have two mid-to-late-40's brothers (none / 0) (#32)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 03:18:32 PM EST
    who have made their careers in the fed gvt since they graduated from college.

    They know how the game is played, and in my experience it's not much different from how the game is played outside the gvt.

    Sure, what we've seen seems to be unprecedented in scope (I can't speak for what went on during WWII, for example) but it doesn't seem to be an unprecedented practice.


    Political appointees (none / 0) (#14)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:17:13 PM EST
    Your quote says appointees and US aAttorneys so I'm suspecting that  that quote was on balance about people who the administration hires who are political in the first place.
    The Bushies were doing it to everybody.

    "The Bushies (none / 0) (#17)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:29:59 PM EST
    were doing it to everybody."

    The DOJ is now, was, and always will be political. As is all of our fed gvt.

    You get hired or appointed at even the lowest levels often, if not mainly, on who you know. Who you have an affinity with. Just like real life.

    "Sure, we may have done it, but those guys over there did it worser" is not a particularly motivating argument.


    You are kind of rude (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:53:51 PM EST
    I looked at some of your comments to other people.

    I made a distinction between political appointees (that are allowed to be political) and career civil servicer employees who are supposed to be based only on merit. I will agree that there is always some bias: that is human.

    The Bushies are egregious in their politicizing of the DOJ - in hiring, in prosecutions. It is to the point of being worser enough to motivate me. It gets sicker and sicker the more detail that comes out.


    Personally I prefer sarcastic to rude, (none / 0) (#28)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:43:47 PM EST
    but I won't argue with you over it.

    I've been here a while. My patience with "rethugs are bad" "no, moonbats are bad" has worn thin.

    These are living breathing human beings we're talking about with kids and spouses and mortgages and lawns that need mowing, not evil cyborgs hell-bent on forcible dominion of you and me.

    Unless you have knowledge otherwise I think it's fair to operate on the assumption that overall these human beings are making decisions based on what they feel is best.

    That you disagree with them on what's best, and therefor view them and/or their decisions as sick, is an example of a viewpoint that is unhelpful to a properly functioning society, imo.


    As is all or our fed gvt!!! (none / 0) (#29)
    by gram cracker on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:44:47 PM EST
    How do you support this broad stroke statement?  Is this just your opinion or is it based on some facts/data you are privy to?

    The need to clean house in DOJ and other (none / 0) (#26)
    by kempis on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:35:01 PM EST
    departments in the executive branch is precisely why   my newly-independent self will vote for the Democrat instead of the Republican this November. We need a Democratic president if for no other reason than to hose some of these rightwingers out of Justice and Interior and Education, etc.

    That is reason enough for me to hold my nose and vote for Obama.


    Bush has taken the J.D. to new depths.... (none / 0) (#27)
    by kdog on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 02:39:58 PM EST
    of crony-ized depravity....I'm shocked I tell you....shocked:)

    I fear as long as the "In-Justice Dept." is staffed by the executive branch, it will never be concerned with "justice", but in keeping the conductor of the gravy train happy.

    Don't miss dday's post today at Hulaballoo (none / 0) (#34)
    by Ellie on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 04:33:35 PM EST

    A Host Of Landmines, by dday, Hulaballoo, dday 6/24/2008