CNN's Arena reported "allegations" of political hiring at DOJ, but former official admitted doing so

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

CNN's Kelli Arena reported that "there have been some allegations that certain people were hired as career prosecutors because of their political affiliation." In fact, former Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling testified before Congress that she had repeatedly considered political affiliation when she made hiring decisions about assistant U.S. attorneys.

On the August 27 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN Justice Department correspondent Kelli Arena, discussing the "problems" that will confront the next attorney general, reported that "there have been some allegations that certain people were hired as career prosecutors because of their political affiliation." In fact, the idea that political affiliation played a role in the Justice Department's hiring of career prosecutors goes beyond mere "allegations," as a former Justice Department official admitted taking political affiliation into account in delaying the hiring of one prosecutor. Specifically, former Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling said during sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 23 that she had repeatedly considered political affiliation when she made hiring decisions about assistant U.S. attorneys, who are hired for career, nonpolitical positions.

Arena reported: "But the question now is, what happens going forward? What -- you know, can this Department of Justice be salvaged? How much damage has been done? Lots of problems there. Morale for one, [CNN anchor] Brianna [Keilar], as you know, a big problem at the Department of Justice. There have been some allegations that certain people were hired as career prosecutors because of their political affiliation." However, on the May 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Arena reported that during the House Judiciary Committee hearing, "Goodling admit[ted] she hired some people for nonpolitical jobs at Justice based on whether they were Republicans or Democrats." Arena further reported that "[t]hat could be a violation of federal law."

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

ARENA: In another revelation, Goodling admits she hired some people for nonpolitical jobs at Justice based on whether they were Republicans or Democrats. That could be a violation of federal law.

REP. ROBERT C. "BOBBY" SCOTT (D-VA): Was that legal?

GOODLING: Sir, I'm not able to answer that question. I know I crossed the line.

Indeed, while testifying about hiring assistant U.S. attorneys, which include both prosecutors and lawyers representing the federal government in civil matters, Goodling stated that she couldn't remember exactly how many times she had taken political considerations into account when hiring them, but, when pressed, stated: "I don't think that I could have done it more than 50 times." Asked whether she had violated civil-service laws, she testified: "I believe I crossed the lines. But I didn't mean to."

From Goodling's May 23 testimony under questioning by Scott and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA):

GOODLING: Fourth, I wish to clarify my role in career hiring at the department.

During my five years at the department, I believe that I interviewed hundreds of job applicants, and the vast majority of these were applicants for political appointee positions. But some were applicants for certain categories of career positions.

Specifically, I interviewed candidates who were to be detailed into confidential policy-making positions and attorney general appointments, such as immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeal. I also interviewed requests for waivers of hiring freezes imposed on districts with an outgoing U.S. attorney or interim or acting U.S. attorney.

In every case I tried to act in good faith and for the purpose of ensuring that the department was staffed by well-qualified individuals who were supportive of the attorney general's views, priorities and goals.

Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions, and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions. And I regret those mistakes.

[...]

JOHNSON: Well, let me ask you this question. You acknowledged or you stated in your statement to this committee that you do acknowledge that you may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions.

JOHNSON: Correct?

GOODLING: Yes.

JOHNSON: Did those career positions include assistant United States attorneys?

GOODLING: Yes.

JOHNSON: And about how many times did you exercise that authority with respect to assistant U.S. attorneys?

GOODLING: I don't recall that I interviewed any --

JOHNSON: Would you say that would be 30? 40? 50? Or more?

GOODLING: I don't -- I don't know that I could -- I don't know that I could estimate. I had waiver requests that came in from time to time, from --

JOHNSON: I'm speaking just of your assistant U.S. attorneys. How many times did you use political questions in your evaluation of assistant U.S. attorneys?

GOODLING: I don't know that I could estimate. Sometimes people came to the department and they were just interested in coming to the department and they interviewed with me for political positions or they were interested in --

JOHNSON: Now, a U.S. attorney's position is not a political position. That's a career position. Correct? I mean --

GOODLING: Right, but --

JOHNSON: How many times did you use that power that you had to hire and fire with respect to hiring of U.S. -- assistant U.S. attorneys and you used political reasons for making a decision not to hire? How many times did you do that?

GOODLING: I can't give you an estimate.

JOHNSON: Would you say less than 50 or more than 50?

GOODLING: I hesitate to give you a reason, just because I can't -- or, an estimate, because I can't remember. I don't think that I could have done it more than 50 times, but I don't know. I just -- there were times when people came to the department and they were interested in career positions or political positions. And those people, I certainly asked political questions of --

[...]

SCOTT: In your testimony, you indicate that you have -- quote, may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions.

Do you believe that those political considerations were not just inappropriate, but in fact illegal?

GOODLING: That's not a conclusion for me to make.

I know I was acting --

SCOTT :(inaudible) Do you believe that they were legal or illegal for you to take those political considerations in mind? Not whether they were legal or illegal, what do you believe? Do you believe that they were illegal?

GOODLING: I don't believe I intended to commit a crime.

SCOTT: Did you break the law? Was it against the law to take those political considerations into account?

You've got civil service laws. You've got obstruction of justice. Were there any laws that you could have broken by taking political considerations into account, quote, on some occasions?

GOODLING: The best I can say is that I know I took political considerations into account on some occasions.

SCOTT: Was that legal?

GOODLING: Sir, I'm not able to answer that question. I know I crossed the line.

SCOTT: What line -- legal?

GOODLING: I crossed the line of the civil service rules.

SCOTT: Rules -- laws. You crossed the law on civil service laws. You crossed the line on civil service laws, is that right?

GOODLING: I believe I crossed the lines. But I didn't mean to. I mean, I --

SCOTT: OK.

Goodling also admitted to "delay[ing]" the appointment of a career prosecutor for political reasons and allowing the appointment to go through only when the chief federal prosecutor for Washington, D.C., intervened to request that the candidate be hired. From Goodling's May 23 House Judiciary Committee testimony, under questioning by Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX):

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you about this.

Recent press reports state that you moved to block the hiring of assistant U.S. attorneys with resumes that suggested that they might be Democrats.

A recent Newsweek article says that you attempted to block the hiring of a prosecutor in the office of Jeff Taylor, the U.S. attorney for D.C., for being a, quote, liberal Democratic type. And The New York Times reports that this was a Howard University Law School graduate who worked at the EPA.

Did that, in fact, occur?

GOODLING: I think that when I did look at that resume I made a snap judgment, and I regret it.

SANCHEZ: So that did occur, you blocked that hiring.

GOODLING: I didn't block it permanently. He was hired and I did authorize it.

SANCHEZ: But you --

GOODLING: I delayed it.

SANCHEZ: You delayed it.

And how many applicants did you block or delay on the basis of what their potential political leanings might have been?

GOODLING: You know, I wouldn't be able to give you a number. I don't feel like there were very many cases where I had those thoughts. Most of the time I looked at waiver requests I made them strictly based on, you know, whether there was an extraordinary need and I agreed with it and how long it would be until the new U.S. attorney got there.

But I'm --

CONYERS: Time of the gentlelady's expired.

SANCHEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CONYERS: You can finish your comment, ma'am.

GOODLING: Sure.

But I want to be honest. There were cases when I looked at resumes and I thought, You know, I don't know if this is the -- I don't know if this is the person the new U.S. attorney would want to hire. Why don't we just wait and let them take a look at the request, and if they want to hire them when they get there then they can?

[...]

JACKSON-LEE: I'd like to know what your disagreement was with Seth Adam Meinero, a Howard University Law School graduate, that you apparently described or stalled in his hiring as a career prosecutor, a graduate of Howard University, one of the top, outstanding law schools in the nation, that graduates an array of diverse law students and future lawyers but has a historical grounding in the African-American community.

But you described him as too liberal for the nonpolitical position. He had formerly been a career attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Why did you dislike Mr. Meinero?

GOODLING: I didn't dislike him.

GOODLING: And I regret the fact that I made a snap judgment based on that totality of the things that I saw on his resume, and I have no good explanation for it. There were --

JACKSON-LEE: But you did reject him, and it was only out of a career attorney to Mr. Taylor who pursued getting Mr. Meinero hired. Is that correct?

GOODLING: I didn't actually reject him. I actually, in fact, authorized the hire later. I delayed it.

JACKSON-LEE: After Mr. Taylor pursued it, is that correct?

GOODLING: Yes. Yes.

JACKSON-LEE: Thank you very much.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the August 27 edition of CNN Newsroom:

ARENA: But the question now is, what happens going forward? What -- you know, can this Department of Justice be salvaged? How much damage has been done? Lots of problems there. Morale for one, Brianna, as you know, a big problem at the Department of Justice. There have been some allegations that certain people were hired as career prosecutors because of their political affiliation. So lots of reviewing there has to take place.

Of course, you have a rise in violent crime. You have the ongoing debate over anti-terrorism measures. So whoever it is that gets this job -- and we've heard, of course, from our White House correspondents and other sources that the front-runner there is Michael Chertoff, the current head of the Department of Homeland Security -- whoever it is that gets this job certainly has his work cut out for him, or her. We'll see.

Posted In
Government, Cabinet & Agencies, Ethics
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Kelli Arena
Show/Publication
The Situation Room, CNN Newsroom
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