Today’s Must Read

June 24, 2008 9:42 a.m.

The first in a series of inspector general reports investigating the politicization of the Justice Department is expected today, and the Washington Post has a sneak peek.

The report to be released today by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine will, according to the Post, chronicle how young conservative law students were favored hires in stocking the DOJ’s prestigious — and heretofore non-partisan — Honors Program.

Under former Attorney General John Ashcroft, oversight for the Honors Program, which had traditionally been the responsibility of senior career officials, fell under the purview of Ashcroft’s key political advisers.

The honors program, which each year places about 150 law school graduates with top credentials in a rotation of Justice jobs, historically had operated under the control of senior career officials. Shifting control of the program to Ashcroft’s advisers prompted charges of partisanship from law professors and former government lawyers who had worked under Democratic administrations.

Critics complained that the honors program favored conservative applicants, and turned down highly qualified prospects because of left-leaning affiliations:

One Harvard Law School graduate said that when he applied for the honors program a few years ago he was warned by professors and fellow students to remove any liberal affiliations from his résumé.

Concerned Justice employees also raised alarms last year by sending a letter to lawmakers who had been examining whether political considerations led to the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys.

Keep an eye out for Michael Elston in the report today. The former chief of staff to the deputy attorney generalwas named as a central figure in the politicization of the honors program over a year ago:

Allegations concerning political hiring for the Honors Program — the Department’s historically rigorous program for hiring entry-level lawyers — have centered on Michael Elston, the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general. A group of anonymous Justice Department employees raised alarms with Congress last month, complaining that Elston rejected hundreds of potential applicants to the program last year seemingly based on their political backgrounds.

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