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Suspect Justice

Key officials must come clean about efforts to politicize the Justice Department.

August 01, 2008

An internal Justice Department investigation has found that Monica M. Goodling and other senior aides to former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales violated civil service laws and the department's own policies by instituting what amounted to a Republican Party affirmative action program, using conservative politics as a litmus test for candidates for nonpolitical positions.

According to the report, even national security interests took a back seat to party loyalty. For example, a seasoned prosecutor and terrorism expert who had received the department's Award for Exceptional Service was passed over for a counter-terrorism job because his wife was active in Democratic politics. The position went to a Republican prosecutor with two years on the job and no counter-terrorism experience. Another prosecutor was passed over because she was believed to be a lesbian, and Goodling's interview notes on a candidate for the position of immigration judge show she ranked him on "god, guns + gays."

The report by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General also found that slots for immigration judges went vacant, permitting a backlog of deportation cases to grow, while the aides sought conservatives for what are supposed to be nonpartisan jobs.

Goodling has already admitted to acting improperly, testifying before Congress that she "crossed the line." What remains to be determined is how significant a role top White House and Justice Department officials played in flouting civil service laws. Goodling is a convenient fall girl -- inexperienced and unqualified as she was for her position as the attorney general's White House liaison. But the public deserves more than the vilification of a zealous factotum; after all, she wasn't the architect of these unethical practices.

That's why Congress needs to hear from former presidential advisor Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and others who have resisted every overture to speak to lawmakers on the record, citing executive privilege. Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee cited Rove for contempt in ignoring a subpoena to testify, and the full House already has voted to hold Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten in contempt. Contempt of Congress is punishable by up to a year in prison, but Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey has said his commitment to cleaning up corruption at the Justice Department does not extend to enforcing that particular law.

Instead, Mukasey has said he'll see that such violations don't happen again. That's a meaningless promise from a member of a lame-duck Cabinet. If he's the reformer he was touted as when nominated to succeed Gonzales, he'll help uncover any and all White House machinations. Anything short of that would prove how lightly the nation's top attorney takes the subversion of law at the Justice Department.

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