Evening news broadcasts on CBS and NBC failed to cover a new report finding that the actions of top aides in the Justice Department who used political considerations in hiring “violated federal law and Department policy, and also constituted misconduct.” ABC's World News, meanwhile, devoted less than 30 seconds to the report. Despite the potential implications for U.S. counterterrorism efforts, all three networks ignored the finding that “an experienced career terrorism prosecutor” was denied a counterterrorism assignment while “a much more junior attorney who lacked any experience in counterterrorism issues and who officials believed was not qualified for the position” was hired instead.
CBS and NBC again ignored the investigation into illegal hiring practices at the Justice Department, not mentioning in their July 28 or 29 evening news broadcasts a July 28 report by the Justice Department's Inspector General (IG) and Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which found that the actions of top aides in the department “violated federal law and Department policy, and also constituted misconduct.” ABC devoted less than 30 seconds to the report during its July 28 evening newscast. Among the report's conclusions was that the use of political considerations in hiring was “particularly damaging to the Department because it resulted in high-quality candidates for important details being rejected in favor of less-qualified candidates.” The report cited as an example “an experienced career terrorism prosecutor” who was rejected for an assignment on counterterrorism issues “because of his wife's political affiliations” while “a much more junior attorney who lacked any experience in counterterrorism issues and who officials believed was not qualified for the position” was hired instead. None of the three networks mentioned that finding, despite its potential implications for U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
In March 2007, the Justice Department launched an investigation into allegations that several U.S. attorneys were forced to resign for improper reasons, including improper political purposes, and expanded the investigation to include the allegation that Monica Goodling, former White House liaison and senior Counsel to the Attorney General, “inappropriately used political or ideological affiliations in the hiring process for career Department employees.” As Media Matters for America has documented, the three networks also ignored a previous report released by the IG/OPR on June 24, which was part of the investigation of the “issues related to the removal of certain United States Attorneys.” According to the The New York Times, the June 24 report found that “Justice Department officials illegally used 'political or ideological' factors in elite recruiting programs in recent years, tapping law school graduates with Federalist Society membership or other conservative credentials over more qualified candidates with liberal-sounding résumés.”
According to a July 29 New York Times article, the July 28 report concluded: “Senior aides to former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales broke Civil Service laws by using politics to guide their hiring decisions, picking less-qualified applicants for important nonpolitical positions, slowing the hiring process at critical times and damaging the department's credibility." In addition to the findings about counterterrorism, the report stated that officials' use of “political and ideological affiliations in soliciting and selecting” immigration judges (IJs), not only violated departmental policy and the law, but “caused significant delays in appointing IJs,” adding: “These delays increased the burden on the immigration courts, which already were experiencing an increased workload and a high vacancy rate [Pages 137-138].”
From the July 28 report:
As the Department's White House Liaison, Goodling regularly screened candidates for political positions at the Department, and most of the persons Goodling screened or interviewed had applied for political positions. However, Goodling also approved the hiring of career AUSAs by interim U.S. Attorneys. She also approved the selection of career attorneys applying for details in several Department offices. In addition, she interviewed many candidates who were interested in obtaining any position in the Department, whether career or political, and she sometimes sought to place these individuals in career positions.
Our investigation found that Goodling improperly subjected candidates for certain career positions to the same politically based evaluation she used on candidates for political positions, in violation of federal law and Department policy.
The evidence also showed that Goodling considered political or ideological affiliations when recommending and selecting candidates for other permanent career positions, including a career SES position in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) and AUSA positions. These actions violated federal law and Department policy, and also constituted misconduct.
In addition, we determined that Goodling often used political or ideological affiliations to select or reject career attorney candidates for temporary details to Department offices, including positions in EOUSA that had not been filled by political appointees. Goodling's use of political considerations in connection with these details was particularly damaging to the Department because it resulted in high-quality candidates for important details being rejected in favor of less-qualified candidates. For example, an experienced career terrorism prosecutor was rejected by Goodling for a detail to EOUSA to work on counterterrorism issues because of his wife's political affiliations. Instead, EOUSA had to select a much more junior attorney who lacked any experience in counterterrorism issues and who EOUSA officials believed was not qualified for the position.
The evidence showed that the most systematic use of political or ideological affiliations in screening candidates for career positions occurred in the selection of IJs, who work in the Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). In the spring of 2004, [Kyle] Sampson created and implemented a new process for the selection of IJs. The new process ensured that all candidates for these positions were selected by the Attorney General's staff. Under this process, staff in the OAG would identify and select candidates for these positions using the Attorney General's direct appointment authority.
In sum, the evidence showed that Sampson, [Jan] Williams, and Goodling violated federal law and Department policy, and Sampson and Goodling committed misconduct, by considering political and ideological affiliations in soliciting and selecting IJs, which are career positions protected by the civil service laws.
Not only did this process violate the law and Department policy, it also caused significant delays in appointing IJs. These delays increased the burden on the immigration courts, which already were experiencing an increased workload and a high vacancy rate. EOIR Deputy Director [Kevin] Ohlson repeatedly requested candidate names to address the growing number of vacancies, with little success. As a result of the delay in providing candidates, the Department was unable to timely fill the large numbers of vacant IJ positions.
On the July 28 broadcast of ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson's coverage of the IG report was limited to the following: “There was strong criticism today for top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. According to the Justice Department's inspector general, the aides broke federal law and department policy and committed misconduct by using political or ideological considerations when screening candidates for judgeships and career jobs at Justice. There was no indication, though, that Gonzales knew of the activity.” CBS and NBC did not report on the investigation in their July 28 or 29 evening news broadcasts.
The New York Times reported in a July 29 article:
Last month, the inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, and the Office of Professional Responsibility released a separate report that found a similar pattern of politicized hiring at the Justice Department in reviewing applications from young lawyers for the honors and intern programs.
The report released on Monday goes much further in documenting pervasive evidence of political hiring for some of the department's most senior career positions, including immigration judges, assistant United States attorneys and even senior counterterrorism positions.
The pattern appeared most damaging in the hiring of immigration judges, as vacancies were allowed to go unfilled -- and a backlog of deportation cases grew -- while Mr. Gonzales's aides looked for conservative lawyers to fill what were supposed to be apolitical jobs.
From the July 28 broadcast of ABC's World News:
GIBSON: There was strong criticism today for top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. According to the Justice Department's inspector general, the aides broke federal law and department policy and committed misconduct by using political or ideological considerations when screening candidates for judgeships and career jobs at Justice. There was no indication, though, that Gonzales knew of the activity.