In Gonzales’ DOJ, Lesbian Rumors Could Cost You Your Job

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It wasn’t just Democrats who Monica Goodling was trying to rid the Justice Department of. If you were gay — or even rumored to be gay — your career was in jeopardy.

Today’s IG report offers new details in the case of Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Hagen, whose tenure at Main Justice came to an end because Monica Goodling picked up on rumors that Hagen was gay and had an allegedly romantic relationship with her supervisor, the then-U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Margaret Chiara.

Hagen, whose case was first reported by NPR in April, is not identified by name in the IG’s report. However, her attorney confirmed to TPMmuckraker this afternoon that Hagen is the unnamed, allegedly lesbian, AUSA detailed in the report.

“I think the report vindicates what she has been saying all along,” said Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall and Banks LLP. “That she was the victim of pernicious discrimination from Monica Goodling.”

Hagen had worked as a federal prosecutor for Chiara in Michigan before being detailed to DOJ headquarters in Washington, where she she worked in the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA). When it was time to renew Hagen’s detail to the EOUSA, Goodling blocked it, and prevented her from obtaining other details within DOJ as well.
Calling Goodling’s actions “wholly inappropriate,” the report concluded that Goodling broke federal law in discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The ostensible reason for the actions taken against Hagen were rumors that she had improperly benefited financially from the purported relationship with Chiara, in the form of large bonuses and trips with Chiara at government expense. The report concludes, however, that Goodling never substantiated the allegations of financial improprieties and that Hagen’s rumored sexual orientation was the reason she was not allowed to remain at Main Justice. One of the witnesses cited in the report is Mary Beth Buchanan, the former executive director of the EOUSA who remains the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh:

Buchanan said that Goodling told her that the AUSA and the U.S. Attorney were involved in a relationship, and that it would not be appropriate for the Department to do anything to further that relationship, such as employing them in the same geographic area. According to Buchanan, at that time the U.S. Attorney was trying to find a position in the Washington, D.C. area. Buchanan said she understood that Goodling was telling her not to select the AUSA because it would look like the Department was sanctioning the homosexual relationship.

As to the veracity of the rumors that surrounded Hagen and Chiara, Hagen’s attorney described them as “completely false” in the interview with TPMmuckraker. “There was nothing to verify that my client was gay — she never identified as such,” Banks said. “The supposed relationship between her and the U.S. attorney was completely false, and nothing more than co-workers and friends. There was no improper relationship. No improper government trips. No improper bonuses.”

Calls to Chiara’s office were not immediately returned.

It’s not clear what, if any, light the Hagen episode shines on the firing of Chiara as U.S. attorney. The professed reasons for the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys have never been very clear, but the circumstances surrounding Chiara’s removal have been especially murky. Appointed U.S. attorney in 2001, she was asked to resign by Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, in November 2006. That was more than a month before the seven other U.S. attorneys were fired, in calls from Michael Battle, who had succeeded Buchanan as the executive director of the EOUSA. Chiara’s resignation was effective March 16, 2007.

The official, albeit vague, reasons for Chiara’s firing were “poor management issues” and a “loss of confidence by career individuals,” according to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony to the Senate. But there was scant documentation within DOJ of Chiara’s alleged problems.

In the absence of a more substantial explanation from the justice Department for Chiara’s firing, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the rumors of her lesbian relationship with Hagen led to Chiara’s downfall, too.

As a Republican source told NPR, “To some people, that’s even worse than being a Democrat.”