[JURIST] US Department of Justice (DOJ) officials accused of politicizing the hiring process will likely not face criminal prosecution, Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile] told members of the American Bar Association [official website] on Tuesday. Mukasey criticized [prepared remarks; recorded video] DOJ officials for considering political affiliation in assessing job applicants, but noted that employees hired under the politicized process were not necessarily less qualified:
[S]ome commentators have suggested that we should criminally prosecute the people found in the reports to have committed misconduct. Where there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we vigorously investigate it. And where there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we vigorously prosecute. But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime. In this instance, the two joint reports found only violations of the civil service laws…
…Other critics have suggested that we should summarily fire or reassign all those people who were hired through the flawed processes described in the joint reports. But there is a principle of equity that we all learned in the schoolyard, and that remains as true today as when we first heard it: two wrongs do not make a right. As the Inspector General himself recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee, the people hired in an improper way did not, themselves, do anything wrong. It therefore would be unfair – and quite possibly illegal given their civil service protections – to fire them or to reassign them without individual cause.
Also, that some of the officials involved in hiring gave improper consideration to politics does not mean that the people they hired are unqualified for their jobs. I am a former federal judge. I will disclose to you in this room, as I did more than once in the courtroom where I used to preside, that I did not sit for a competitive examination to get that job, nor did any of my colleagues, and I do not flatter myself with the thought that my selection was in any rigorous sense a merits appointment. Politics can and does play a role in the appointment of federal judges, but it doesn't follow from that that federal judges are unqualified to do their jobs.
Congressional Democrats criticized Mukasey for his comments, accusing him of being too quick to dismiss prosecution. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said [press release]:
Attorney General Mukasey's blanket conclusions appear premature based on the facts and evidence that congressional investigators and the Inspector General have uncovered so far. The White House stonewalling continues, with aides refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas and testify about their role in the politicization of the Department of Justice. The Attorney General, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, seems intent on insulating this administration from accountability. We must continue to pursue the truth and facts, and hold any wrongdoers accountable.
AP has more. RTTnews has additional coverage.
Last month, the DOJ Offices of Inspector General and Professional Responsibility concluded in a report [PDF text; JURIST report] that department aides illegally made hiring decisions based on consideration of applicants' political and ideological beliefs. In early 2007, officials began investigating allegations [JURIST report] that former DOJ aide Monica Goodling [JURIST news archive] and two other aides considered the political affiliations of candidates for career prosecutor positions in the Department, contrary to federal law [OSC backgrounder] and internal practices. The report also concluded that Goodling and one of the other aides committed misconduct through their actions. It recommended that the DOJ consider the aides' actions if any sought DOJ employment, while noting they could not currently be sanctioned because they had all resigned. Mukasey responded [press release] that the DOJ had made institutional improvements since the investigation began and would implement the Offices' new recommendations.