Audit: Gonzales-Era DOJ Played Politics

Top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales violated federal law and Justice Department policy by considering politics in hiring career employees, according to an internal department report released today.

Monica Goodling, the former Justice Department White House liaison, came under particular scrutiny in the report.

"Our investigation found that Monica Goodling and others in the attorney general's office subjected candidates for certain career positions to the same politically based evaluation she used on candidates for political positions, in violation of federal law and department policy," Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a statement. "This resulted in high quality candidates for important department positions being rejected because of improper political considerations."

Goodling's attorney, John Dowd, said via e-mail that he thinks the report leaves many questions unanswered. Dowd and the rest of Goodling's legal team released a statement this afternoon, praising their client for the "candor and detail" of the testimony she gave before Congress in May 2007, after she resigned from the department.

The attorneys say that "each and every one of the core conclusions" of the report "is consistent with, and indeed, derived from, Ms. Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee," and that it was Goodling, herself, who brought the issues to light.

"As concluded in the report, Ms. Goodling candidly admitted to Congress that she had 'crossed the line' by considering political factors with respect to a variety of career positions at the Department of Justice, and that she regretted those errors," their statement added.

Because none of the officials singled out in the report still work at the Justice Department, they aren't subject to internal sanctions. It's not yet clear whether a criminal investigation is underway, but Democratic lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee said Thursday that they are looking into a possible criminal referral regarding testimony DOJ officials gave to Congress.

"The report also indicates that Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson, and Alberto Gonzales may have lied to the Congress about these matters" contained in the report, a statement from panel Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said. "I have directed my staff to closely review this matter and to consider whether a criminal referral for perjury is needed."

Goodling's attorneys called the insinuation that she might have lied to Congress "outrageous," and noted that Conyers thanked her for her testimony at last year's hearing.

The report did not offer any evidence that Gonzales was personally aware of any of the illegal hiring procedures, and his attorney railed against any suggestion that the former attorney general lied to Congress.

Calling on Conyers to retract his statement, George Terwilliger III said in a letter to the lawmaker that the report "in no way 'indicates' that Judge Gonzales may have been untruthful with Congress" about the matters addressed within it.

The former attorney general issued a statement on the report's findings. "Political considerations should play no part in the hiring of career officials at the Department of Justice. I am gratified that the efforts I initiated to address this issue have now been affirmed and augmented by this report. I agree with the report's recommendations."

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