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Justice Department investigating whether political factors affected prosecutor hires

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] has launched an internal investigation into whether a top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales considered the political affiliations of candidates for career prosecutor positions in the Department, contrary to federal law [OSC backgrounder] and longstanding practice. A Department spokesman said Wednesday that the Department's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility [official websites] had begun the probe several weeks ago in connection with procedures possibly followed by Monica Goodling [JURIST news archive], the now-resigned Gonzales White House liaison who reviewed files for federal prosecutors in districts where no US Attorney was in place or where a replacement had not been confirmed by the Senate. It was revealed earlier this week that Goodling also was given broad authority [JURIST report] over the hiring of non-civil service lawyers and officers with the Department, leading Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to express concern that the practice was part of a "systematic scheme to inject political influence into the hiring and firing decisions of key Justice employees." AP has more.

Documents - included written notes by Goodling - handed over by the Department of Justice to the House Judiciary Committee in early April indicated that officials in the Department took sitting federal prosecutors' political activities [JURIST report] and connections to the conservative Federalist Society into account in deciding whether to retain or dismiss them. Goodling resigned last month in the midst of controversy over her role in the firings of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archive] for allegedly political reasons.

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