Fired U.S. Attorney Among Those Who Appealed DOJ’s Hiring Decision

June 24, 2008 6:27 p.m.

We already knew that Michael Elston, chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General and former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, weren’t best buds. Their acrimonious phone calls over her December 2006 firing as U.S. attorney for San Diego are well known, but according to the DOJ Inspector General’s report issued today, the two butted heads as early as October 2006, over the “deselection” of a young attorney for the Justice Department Honor’s Program.

On October 11, 2006, Lam sent an email to Elston inquiring as to why a candidate, an honors graduate from Stanford Law School who had held a Federal clerkship, was unqualified. Lam told the OIG that she suspected the candidate was deselected because of a previous article she had written on gender discrimination in the military, and because the judge she clerked for was a Clinton appointee.

From the report (pdf):

Elston replied by e-mail that most deselections were for poor grades. He acknowledged, however, that poor grades did not appear to be the issue with this candidate, and he offered to check into the application and let Lam know whether an appeal would be successful.

Elston replied later that day: “I have reviewed her application materials, Carol. I do not think an appeal will be successful. If it helps, she was not selected by the other components to which she applied.”

Lam responded: “Thanks Mike. Just curious, though – I don’t see anything unacceptable in her online application that was made available to us. Do the other components see something that I don’t?”

Elston replied: “Not that I know of, Carol.”

Elston was found by the report to be in violation of federal law for hiring candidates on “political and ideological” grounds.

Before leaping to the conclusion that Lam’s firing, which has yet to be fully explained, was prompted by the honors program dispute, keep in mind that Lam’s name appeared on a preliminary list of U.S. attorneys to be fired as early as January 2006. She was then fired in December of that year, one of eight U.S. attorneys asked to resign by the Justice Department, but one of the only ones (at least initially) to put up a fight. At the time she was asked to leave, Lam was in the midst of securing indictments on CIA operative Dusty Foggo and defense contractor Brent Wilkes.

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