Obscure Liberal Leanings Disqualified Candidates from Bush DOJ

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June 25, 2008 2:21 p.m.

Esther McDonald is no John McCain when it comes to the Internet.

According to the DOJ OIG report released yesterday, the former counsel to Associate Attorney General and member of Honors Program Screening Committee, gathered information to determine the politics and ideologies of their applicants, looking at blogs, MySpace pages, school newspapers, and old articles. Those searches were then used to weed out applicants with liberal leaning affiliations:

[Micahel] Elston, [chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General] and [David] Fridman, [a former Screening Committee member] both remembered McDonald circling items on candidates’ applications and writing remarks about those items, including employment or affiliations with organizations, judges, law school professors, and legislators who could be considered liberal.

In examining the hiring decisions of McDonald and the Screening Committee, many DOJ divisions looked into why their recommended applicants had been disqualified.

One candidate, a Harvard Law graduate, with an A- average, had interned in a U.S. Attorney’s office and came highly recommended, but was declined by the Screening Committee. The Civil Rights Division appealed the decision:

Rena Comisac, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, told us that after the appeal was submitted, Elston informed her that the Screening Committee had found an article on the Internet in which the candidate was quoted as expressing regret that he had not participated in the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle.

According to Comisac, Elston said that if the candidate wanted to participate in the Seattle WTO protests, which in Elston’s opinion were close to a riot, then the candidate would not hesitate to chain himself to the front steps of the Department if he did not like the way something was being done. Comisac told us that it was clear to her that “any additional appeals would not be productive” and that she decided not to pursue the matter further.

Other candidates were deslected due to their past affiliations:

[Daniel] Fridman, [a member of the Screening Committee] recalled that one candidate was at the top of his class at Harvard Law School and was fluent in Arabic. McDonald’s written notations indicated that she had concerns about the candidate because he was a member of the Council on American Islamic Relations and that she had placed the application in the questionable pile.

In his testimony, Elston largely denied a candidate’s politics or ideology as a role in deselection — or in failing to grant appeals of deselected candidates — but he did recall other patterns in his process:

We asked Elston about another deselected Honors Program candidate who was enrolled in a joint degree program for law and urban planning at Harvard, served as an articles editor on a law journal, graduated in the top 5 percent of his undergraduate class at Harvard, and had worked on a congressional campaign for a Democrat. Elston said he remembered the applicant because he had “chuckled” at the following portion of his essay:

In high school I thought that I wanted to captain a Green Peace skiff in the North Atlantic. I figured that was what serious environmentalists did, and I wanted to be a serious environmentalist. I decided later that potential martyrdom on the high seas was not for me, and rather than operate at the margins, I would prefer a job in which I could have a less antagonistic and more direct impact.

When asked how he voted on this candidate, Elston said, “A lot of times when I chuckled, I said no.”

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