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A Letter from Anonymous Justice Employees

April 18, 2007

Today the House and Senate Judiciary Committees received a letter from anonymous Justice Department employees concerning widespread politicization at the Justice Department. Read the full letter here (pdf). The opening excerpt:

Dear Messrs. Chairman,

Many of us in the Department of Justice have been watching with admiration as you expose the overly political firing of United States Attorneys and hope that you can help in returning our beloved Department to of establishing justice in the United States. We are equally concerned, however, about the politicizing of the non-political ranks of Justice employees, offices which are consistently and methodically being eroded by partisan politics.

Many employees within the Department’s litigating divisions are sitting quietly by, hoping that you will investigate what has happened to the Attorney General’s Honors Program and even the Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP). You are surely aware that the Attorney General’s Honors Program has a long history of hiring top students from a variety of law schools, and it is the only way that young lawyers are able to come into the Department immediately after law school. This year the divisions once again pored over applications and resumes, choosing students to interview who demonstrated not only excellent grades but a real interest in the areas of law they might be hired to work in. After choosing potential candidates to interview, the division personnel forwarded their lists to the Office of Attorney Recruitment Management for what was traditionally final approval. This is no longer a final step, however, because the list had to go higher – to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. When the list of potential interviewees was returned this year, it had been cut dramatically.

The letter then goes on to describe confusion and consternation within the divisions, and ultimately a meeting that was demanded by staff, in which Michael Ellston, Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, “was offensive to the point of insulting” in addressing the concerns. (Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has also testified regarding the firings of the US Attorneys.) Ellston attributed the removals from the interviewee lists to “spelling errors” and other such technical problems. The letter continues from there:

When division personnel staff later compared the remaining interviewees with the candidates struck form the list, one common denominator appeared repeatedly: most of those struck form the list had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a “liberal” cause, or otherwise appeared to have “liberal” leanings. Summa cum laude graduates of both Yale and Harvard were rejected for interviews.

The letter discusses further problems with the hirings, and adds that there are ample email records of the meeting that could be obtained. It concludes:

While the current political appointees repeatedly remind everyone that the U.S. Attorneys “serve at the pleasure of the President,” the Department’s career attorneys serve the people of the United States. We hope you will see fit to include this politicizing of the career ranks in your questioning of Attorney General Gonzales and his staff.

Thank you.

A Group of Concerned Department of Justice Employees

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. made the following statement in response to the letter:

“I take any accusations of undue politicization of career staff seriously. We have already identified concerns in Department’s Civil Rights Division. These new accusations are clearly something we will want to consider as well.”

The hearing on the Civil Rights Division included some disturbing testimony, including this from Joseph D. Rich, a former career lawyer at the Civil Rights Division:

For example, during my tenure as section chief for the Voting Section, I was ordered to change standard performance evaluations of attorneys under my supervision to include critical comments of those who had made recommendations that were counter to the political will of the front office and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.

In my 32 years of management in the division before this administration, I was never asked to alter my performance evaluations.

The hearing was prompted by widespread discontent in the division, as reported by the Washington Post amongst others:

Justice Dept. rights division faces upheaval
Dan Eggen, Washington Post – November 20, 2005

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has enforced antidiscrimination laws for nearly half a century, is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and that has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current employees.

Almost 20 percent of the division’s lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers say was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the Bush administration’s views on civil rights laws. Longtime career litigators said political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of disputed GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.

In the meantime, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined by 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics.

Indeed, during the Oversight hearing on electronic voting this afternoon, Subcommittee Chairman Lacy Clay questioned Gracia Hillman, Commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) on reports of overblown voter fraud charges and editing of voter ID policies:

Subcommittee Chairman Lacy Clay:
“I’m just surprised at the actions of the EAC when they are here to protect American voters.”

Attorney General Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the Senate tomorrow.