If you needed further convincing that Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling -- the two young Justice Department aides who have resigned due to their roles in the U.S. attorney firings -- were major players at the Department, Murray Waas has it.
In March of 2006, Waas reports, Alberto Gonzales signed a secret order that gave Goodling and Sampson the authority to hire and fire senior political appointees at the department -- the decisions only required Gonzales' authorization. It cut out other members of the department's senior leadership from the hiring and firing process.
The order, an official described only as a "senior executive branch official" explains to Waas, "'was an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on.'" Goodling, remember, was the Justice Department's liaison with the White House.
Now, the order dealt with a narrow class of political appointees at the Justice Department: officials who were above the career level, but not so high that they were subject to Senate confirmation. That means Sampson and Goodling couldn't replace the highest ranked officials, but could replace those slightly lower in rank. Here's an idea of what that would mean:
A senior Justice Department official, who did not know of Gonzales's delegation of authority until contacted by National Journal, said that it posed a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal-justice system because it gave Sampson, Goodling, and the White House control over the hiring of senior officials in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, which oversees all politically sensitive public corruption cases, at the same time that they held authority to hire and fire U.S. attorneys.
"If you are controlling who is going to be a U.S. attorney and who isn't going to be,... firing them outside the traditional process... and the same people are deciding who are going to be their supervisors back in Washington... there is too much of a potential for mischief, for abuse," the official said.
Waas doesn't point to anyone in particular who was hired or fired by Goodling or Sampson, but it would seem just a matter of time before we find out.