Monica Goodling

The release last week of a scathing report from the Department of Justice claiming that there was widespread corruption in its hiring practices should not surprise anyone. The report, from the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility portrayed an agency fraught with improper behavior inside former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s office, and the actions of two bad seeds in particular, former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson and White House Liaison Monica Goodling. All testified last year in Congressional hearings and did so in what was a spectacle of ineptitude, but also of evasiveness and pointing fingers. All three resigned and are thus not subject to any internal rebuke.

While Gonzales is still looking for a real job, he still is able to command five figures for speeches to right-wing groups to deliver, what, speeches about what it was like to help politicize the DOJ and completely taint what had been one of the most independent agencies in the federal government. Gonzales, who went from White House Counsel to the President in the first Bush term to Attorney General, certainly has much to answer to still. His opaque answers and general incompetence belie his Harvard pedigree. But besides being Bush’s favorite Mexican, he was also an acolyte who ran DOJ and helped attract other officials who would stop at nothing to serve their President. While the report does not place the blame squarely on him, it’s clear that misdeeds and other illegal behavior were being committed inside DOJ and the AG’s office.

The details of the 140-page report are eye-opening. DOJ had two types of programs that have been accused of politicization: the honor’s program that invites recent law school graduates to work inside the department, and a summer internship that law students can apply for as they are nearing completion of their degree. Applicants for both could be seeking either political or career appointments. For the latter, these are positions inside DOJ as attorneys in which you’d expect the department to hire the brightest among a young attorney pool, as has been the custom for decades. Political appointments, too, have historically been vetted carefully and those who earn these posts, like Gonzales, serve at the President’s request. Typically, these officials –even the Inspector General—are turned out with the change in administration. But those who want to pursue a career as a government attorney also traditionally apply to the main honors program, and DOJ has hired many impressive attorneys as a result.

So let’s say it’s 2003. You’re a fresh law school graduate from Stanford. You have an impeccable transcript. You clerked in an Appeals Court over the previous couple of summers. You now joined a prestigious Wall Street law firm. And now you want to enter the DOJ honors program. You complete the application, send the necessary letters of reference, and send your vitae, which also states you were involved with organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign or the American Constitution Society.

Or now let’s say you’re also a fresh law school graduate from a fourth-tier (not first rate) law school, with passable grades, minimal clerking experience, but you do happen to belong to the Freedom Forum, the Federalist Society or even the Heritage Foundation. Which one do you think got flown to Washington to be interviewed by Goodling or Sampson? Which applicant do you think was “de-selected” by the same Goodling and Sampson, or their minions, and thus rejected for the posts despite the impressive academic performance and overall promise?

These kinds of scenarios are detailed extensively in the DOJ report. You can read about an otherwise stellar candidate who asks a former boss and Appeals Court judge to intervene on her behalf, and the judge herself begins to cast doubt on the selection process. You can also read how committee members –government officials who pledge under oath to be fair and impartial—looked at candidates’ voter registration records, political contributions they might have made, submitted them to arbitrary Google or Myspace searches for obviously political terms. (Some of the terms these idiots Googled: “sex”,. “guns”, “WMD”, “Clinton” and “Spotted Owl”)

As if this isn’t shocking enough, it is also probably illegal. As the report states, both Sampson and Goodling (and others) “improperly considered political or ideological affiliations in screening candidates for career positions”. So there is the rub. Even if you weren’t looking for a political assignment, it didn’t matter. You still had to pass an ideological litmus test devised by a coterie of nutjobs whose only self-interest was to protect their own right-wing, Christian beliefs. Once a successful candidate made it to a face-to-face interview with Goodling, they were treated to a list of oral questions that most certainly would not (and should not) be asked in order to be screened for a government post or internship. Imagine being asked the following:

“Why are you a Republican?”

“Aside from the President, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire”

“What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?”

“Tell us about your political philosophy. There are different groups of conservatives, by way of example: Social Conservative, Fiscal Conservative, Law & Order Republican”

If you think this is some kind of sick joke, then watch this clip from “The Daily Show” the other night and savor the eviscerating commentary from Jon Stewart.

You would think that if you got to this stage in the selection process, you might find all this very odd. Yet this kind of nefarious hiring was somehow allowed to continue for a while, until some of these applicants complained officially –and, so too did the US attorneys who were suddenly relieved of their posts in what some saw as an effort to “clear out” those who were not upholding conservative principles, and all this taking place in the middle (not at the start) of the administration’s term. Bush, like other Presidents, has every right to replace political appointees. But in this instance, the sweep was political –as was the honors and internship program that both Sampson and Goodling managed. If you were not a good Bush loyalist and devoted Christian, you were not, in their own terms, a good “American” that would get the job.

Much has been written in our nasty and sometimes sexist press about the failings and stupidities of Monica Goodling. But let’s be clear. She knew what she was doing on a strictly political or instrumental level. She and Sampson ministered to a flock of God-fearing staffers like them, and Goodling was put in charge of hiring all attorneys who would be working at the Department of Justice. This despite her own solidly lousy credentials: a B.A. from Messiah College and law degree from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, a fourth-tier school, according to US News & World Report. And when she came to DOJ from a stint at the Republican National Committee (where she specialized in “opposition research”), she had absolutely no litigation experience. It isn’t enough to say she was in way over her head. Though she testified last year that she “crossed the line” in the hiring practices, she also took the Fifth and was not clear what the “rules” were. Or so she claimed.

The more troubling aspect is that this kind of corrupt hiring practice is much more widespread than we thought. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us”–that has been the mantra in the Bush White House since 9/11. But this is DOJ. It’s a bureaucracy that we’re all supposed to go to when, well, we have problems with matters of federal law. But what happens when you have a secretive White House and officials who leave it to go over to Justice, staff it with people who think like you, no matter what their qualifications? You get a department of hacks and cronies, partisans who would put their own dim minds above all other governmental priorities. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that Goodling did this all herself. While she was a faithful gatekeeper, she had to have instructions from her boss, Gonzales, who in turn would have received orders from the White House itself. Witness the subpoenas just announced for Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, who have so far refused to testify on their involvement in these DOJ hiring (and firing) practices.

In some strange twist of fate, Goodling and company got what they wanted. They got their own people in. Some 150 attorneys who came from Regent University Law School were employed inside DOJ at one time. But when the going got tough –with those pesky subpoenas and possible charges of perjury—Goodling decided quick to get a defense attorney from a first-rate school –in this case Emory University, and top attorney John Dowd of Akin Gump.

[Via CBS News]

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