TPM News

From the's Law Blog:

White & Cases's George Terwilliger, who's repping Gonzo, said in a statement: "The report makes two important points regarding former Attorney General Gonzales. First, the investigation found that former Attorney General Gonzales was not involved in or aware of the politicized hiring practices of staffers. Second, when he became aware of the problems he moved to correct them. It's simply not possible for any cabinet officer to be completely aware of and micromanage the activities of staffers, particularly where they don't inform him of what's going on."

. . . For his part, Gonzo said in a statement: "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."

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are talking about a criminal investigation for DOJ officials -- Alberto Gonzales included.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said today's report about politicization in at the DOJ suggests that former AG Alberto Gonzales and other Justice officials may have given false statements under oath before Congress.

Conyers said in a statement this morning:

The Report also indicates that Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson, and Alberto Gonzales may have lied to the Congress about these matters. I have directed my staff to closely review this matter and to consider whether a criminal referral for perjury is needed."
A spokesman for the committee said the committee's lawyers are currently looking over the report and past testimony on the Hill.

That's probably not as dramatic as it sounds. Any criminal referral would be passed on to DOJ, which has so far refused to appoint a special prosecutor for the matter. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has said he's not going to pursue contempt referrals from Congress.

The OIG report released today on the politicized hiring at the Justice Department, details a number of the candidates that were de-selected for positions under Monica Goodling's watch. One of them, was an "experienced terrorism prosecutor. . [who] had successfully prosecuted a high-profile terrorism case for which he received the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service."

Unfortunately for him, he had a wife who was a Democrat:

Battle stated that Voris told him that the candidate was head and shoulders above the other candidates who had applied for the counterterrorism detail. Battle agreed with that assessment, stating that the candidate was the best applicant for the detail. John Kelly, the EOUSA Deputy Director and Chief of Staff, stated that he and Battle wanted to hire the candidate because he was one of the leading terrorism prosecutors in the country and a very talented attorney.

The candidate's wife was a prominent local Democrat elected official and vice-chairman of a local Democratic Party. She also ran several Democratic congressional campaigns. The candidate was at times a registered Independent and at other times a registered Democrat. Notwithstanding the candidate's outstanding qualifications and EOUSA senior management's desire to hire him, Goodling refused to approve the detail.

. . . Battle, Kelly, and EOUSA Deputy Director Nowacki all told us that Goodling refused to allow the candidate to be detailed to EOUSA solely on the basis of his wife's political party affiliation. [emphasis ours]

According to the OIG report released today, Angela Williamson, a deputy to Monica Goodling at the DOJ, was intimately involved in her bosses scurrilous hiring practices, attending interviews and often conducting interviews herself. Here's a sampling of the same questions that Goodling asked those being considered for political positions:

After Goodling resigned, Williamson typed from memory the list of questions Goodling asked as a guide for future interviews. Among other questions, the list included the following:

Tell us about your political philosophy. There are different groups of conservatives, by way of example: Social Conservative, Fiscal Conservative, Law & Order Republican.

[W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him? Aside from the President, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire.

We found that this last question often took the form of asking the candidate to identify his or her most admired President, Supreme Court Justice, or legislator. Some candidates were asked to identify a person for all three categories. Williamson told us that sometimes Goodling asked candidates: "Why are you a Republican?" [emphasis ours]

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the politicization in the Bush Administration's Department of Justice posed a threat to national security.

Responding to today's report from the DOJ Inspector General, Leahy said in a statement:

"The report reveals decisions to reject qualified, experienced applicants to work on counterterrorism issues in favor of a less experienced attorney on the basis of political ideology. Rather than strengthening our national security, the Department of Justice appears to have bent to the political will of the administration. Further, the report reveals that the 'principal source' for politically vetted candidates considered for important positions as immigration judges was the White House- a clear indication of the untoward political influence of the Bush administration on traditionally non-political appointments."

Leahy went on to criticize former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for not acknowledging the systemic problems in the DOJ.

"Like some in the administration who would place blame for the actions at Abu Ghraib solely onto the shoulders of a few bad apples, the Attorney General has tried to dismiss the Inspector General's first report on politicization issued last month as documenting the actions of just a few bad apples. But it was obvious from that first report, and becomes more so with this second joint IG/OPR report, that the problems of politicization at the Department are rooted deeper than that.

In this report, we once again see that the Bush administration has allowed politics to affect and infect the nation's chief law enforcement agency's priorities.

Leahy said he looks forward to the Inspector General Glenn Fine's testimony before his committee on Wednesday.

Read Leahy's entire statement here.

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility released another part of their investigation into the politicization of the DOJ. The full report, "An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General," can be found here (pdf).

We'll be reading through and posting on this all day. But at first glance here's a quite relevant section:

In sum, we concluded that the evidence showed that Goodling violated both federal law and Department policy, and therefore committed misconduct, when she considered political or ideological affiliations in hiring decisions for candidates for career positions within the Department. In particular, the evidence showed that she considered political or ideological affiliations in deciding several waiver requests from interim U.S. Attorneys, in promoting several candidates for career positions, and in disapproving a candidate for an EOUSA career SES position.

Late update: Here are the names of other implicated in the report: former Chief of Staff to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson; Goodling's predecessor, former White House Liason Jan Williams, and EOUSA (Executive Office for United States Attorneys) Director John Nowacki-- who is still at the department. The report states that Nowacki knew of the politicization of the DOJ but drafted a press statement saying otherwise. Of Sampson, Williams and Goodling the report states:

In sum, the evidence showed that Sampson, Williams, and Goodling violated federal law and Department policy, and Sampson and Goodling committed misconduct, by considering political and ideological affiliations in soliciting and selecting IJs [immigration judges], which are career positions protected by the civil service laws.

Late late update: Attorney General Michael Mukasey released a statement saying he is "of course disturbed" by the findings of the OIG report:

I have said many times, both to members of the public and to Department employees, it is neither permissible nor acceptable to consider political affiliations in the hiring of career Department employees. And I have acted, and will continue to act, to ensure that my words are translated into reality so that the conduct described in this report does not occur again at the Department.

Over the course of the last year and a half, the Justice Department has made many institutional changes to remedy the problems discussed in today's report, and the report itself commends these changes. The report includes one new recommendation for institutional change, and I have directed the prompt implementation of that recommendation. It is crucial that the American people have confidence in the propriety of what we do and how we do it, and I will continue my efforts to make certain they can have such confidence.

Late late late update: The report also investigates whether officials (namely Williams, Goodling and Nowacki) gave "inaccurate or misleading" information to investigators, attorneys in civil-suits, and higher-ups at the DOJ.

Late late late late update: We think it's important to note that the former Attorney Generals Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft, who presided over the DOJ through all of this, were not implicated in the report.

The report also details some of the questions Goodling used for her interviews, here's a pithy little excerpt:

Tell us about your political philosophy. There are different groups of conservatives, by way of example: Social Conservative, Fiscal Conservative, Law & Order Republican.

[W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

Aside from the President, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire.

And our personal favorite:

Why are you a Republican?

Of the Goodling and Angela Williamson (the Deputy White House Liason) interviewees, 34 persons said they discussed abortion, and 21 said they discussed gay marriage.

In this week's Sunday paper, the Times of London doled out another interesting detail from their secretly recorded conversation with former Homeland Security Adviser Stephen Payne.

This week's story was not as explosive as the one two weeks ago, when the Houston energy consultant offered to arrange meetings with White House officials in exchange for big donations to the future George W. Bush presidential library fund.

The latest story said Payne talked about obtaining travel documents from the United Nations in exchange for money. That's a remarkable offer from a guy who sat on the Secure Borders and Open Doors Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee. (Until he was told to resign a couple weeks ago).

On video, Payne was in a London hotel restaurant talking to a Kazakh politician known as Eric Dos. Dos made a reference to a previous business deal with Payne when Payne allegedly obtained a United Nations "passport" for a Kazakh billionaire who used to head the state oil and gas company, KazMunaiGas, or KMG.

Dos introduced the subject of Payne having helped Kulibayev obtain a UN "passport". Payne appeared to confirm his involvement, saying "Yeah yeah yeah, yeah." Asked if this was possible Payne answered: "It can be done. It's a question of money, always. Everything is." A source close to Payne said: "He didn't do this, but he knows who did. Kulibayev's firm paid for him to sit on a UN advisory commission and a friend of his on it got the document for him."

The "commission" referred to is the Energy Security Forum, a now defunct offshoot of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. Kulibayev was given a seat, courtesy of his position at KMG, from its inception in 2003, but never turned up to any of its meetings, said a spokesman.

The document referred to is not a formal passport but allows holders to travel internationally, according to the Times.

John McCain has received a significant up-tick in contributions from the oil industry after he decided to reverse his position on offshore drilling. Since McCain's decision to support offshore drilling in June, McCain has received over $1 million in donations compared to only having received $208,000 in June. (Washington Post)

The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction plans to release a report today detailing the problems at a prison in Khan Bani Saad which has become a symbol of government waste. The report also faults Parsons construction group for poorly managing millions of dollars in contracts. (AP)

In more bad news for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), the New York Times reveals today that he has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from Harlem's biggest real estate companies. This news comes after Rangel has decided to give up a highly criticized rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem. (New York Times)

Read More →

We reported earlier that Rep. Don Young (R-AK) falsely claimed that he was named "Hero of the Taxpayer" by the non-partisan reform group, Taxpayers for Commonsense.

But Taxpayers for Commonsense denies even having such an award, yet alone awarding it to Young, a long-time target of the political watchdog.

As it turns out, Young was named "Hero of the Taxpayer", by the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, founded and run by Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist.

But now even Norquist is throwing Young under the bus, issuing a press release late this afternoon slamming the Congressman and claiming he "betrays taxpayers."

"Republicans that vote for tax increases are like rat heads in Coke bottles,"Norquist said. "They ruin the Republican brand for all members. It should be readily apparent to a former 'Hero of the Taxpayer Award' recipient that you don't vote for tax hikes."

According to the press release, Young voted for H.R. 2642, the Blue Dog Tax Hike-- a move that makes him ineligible to receive ATR's "Hero of the Taxpayer Award" in 2008.

We called Young's campaign press contact for comment, Mike Anderson, who told us that the bill was a lot more complicated than it looked.

"If you vote for the bill you vote for veterans and Alaska has 75,000 veterans, but you're also colored as pro-increasing taxes, but if he voted against the bill, he's anti-raising taxes but anti-veteran," Anderson told TPMmuckraker. "Young said that he had to take care of the veterans. Veterans have always been very important."

The federal investigation of former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) has nabbed another one.

Pleading guilty in federal court today was Cecelia Grimes, Weldon's very good friend and a former lobbyist.

Grimes admitted to destruction of evidence and could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case goes back to October 2006, just after the feds began investigating Weldon for alleged nepotism, particularly concerning the lucrative lobbying contracts awarded to his inexperienced daughter.

Grimes admitted today that just a few days after the feds served her with a subpoena, she stuffed a stack of documents into a trash bag and put it on the curb outside her home for pick up. The FBI later retreived those documents, which included records of her travel plans and Weldon's campaign.

She also told a federal judge that she threw her Blackberry into a trash can at a fast food restaurant in Pennsylvania so the FBI could not recover the emails stored on it.

The court documents refer to Weldon only as "Representative A."

Weldon's chief of staff pleaded guilty last year

This federal investigation probably contributed to Weldon's failure to win reelection in 2006, But so far, none of this seems to be getting in the way of Weldon's new career as an international arms dealer.