IG Report Implicates Two Former DOJ Officials

June 24, 2008 11:09 a.m.

Inspector General Glenn Fine’s report on the politicization of the Justice Department’s Honors Program was just released, and states that the OIG did find evidence — surprise! — that politics and ideology were weighed in the selection of candidates, but that only Michael Elston, the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, and Esther McDonald, former counsel to Associate Attorney General and member of Honors Program Screening Committee, were involved.

From (pdf) the report:

The evidence in our investigation – including the documentary evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and the analysis of the applications of candidates who were selected for interviews and who were deselected by the 2006 Screening Committee – supports the
conclusion that political or ideological affiliations were used to deselect candidates from the Honors Program and SLIP.

As discussed below, we concluded that while Daniel Fridman did not use political or ideological affiliations in his evaluation of candidates, the evidence indicates that both McDonald and Elston did. As a result, many qualified candidates were deselected by the Screening Committee because of their perceived political or ideological affiliations.

McDonald, who worked with Fridman (an assistant U.S. Attorney from the
Southern District of Florida who was detailed to the deputy AG’s office) to screen applications before they were sent to Elston, would often notate the applicants ideology (from page 73):

When Fridman asked McDonald how she obtained the additional information, she told him she conducted searches on Google and MySpace, and read law review articles written by the applicants. For example, Fridman recalled that one candidate had written a law review article about the detention of individuals at Guantánamo, and McDonald noted on the application that she perceived the applicant’s viewpoint to be contrary to the position of the administration. On another application, McDonald noted that she found information on the Internet indicating that a candidate was an “anarchist.”

We’ll have more on this as we look over the 110-page report today.

[Late Update: Chief of Staff for the Deputy Attorney General, Michael Elston was named in the report as being in violation of federal laws for weighing “political and ideological” leanings in the hiring process. Elston and Esther McDonald, a former DOJ lawyer, were both found in violation of DOJ policy.]

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