Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the new chief of the Civil Rights Division, appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show Thursday. If you didn’t tune in, click here for a link to the audio file.
Below, we’ve highlighted a section in which Perez discusses hiring in the division — a touchy subject in a component buffeted by turnover and politically motivated personnel decisions during the Bush administration.
But first, a little background.
In a January report, the department’s internal watchdogs concluded that Bradley Schlozman, who was a deputy and acting head of the division during the Bush administration, violated federal law in his quest to stock the division with his political equals. During his tenure, Schlozman hired 99 lawyers, according to the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility. Sixty-three of them had Republican affiliations, two of them were Democrats, and 34 were labeled as “unknown.”
The Obama transition team’s confidential report on the division, obtained by The New York Times, showed that 236 civil rights lawyers left from 2003 to 2007. The division has about 350 lawyers. The Obama administration hopes to add about 50 more.
Here’s the exchange:
Caller: I wanted to know what is going to happen in your division to the people who were hired as a result of political influence or favoritism because they were conservatives?
Perez: Our hiring process is going to be nonpartisan. It is whoever is the most qualified candidate for the job. Our employee review process is going to be similarly nonpartisan. If you are doing the job and doing it well, you will continue to do it. If you are not doing the job, you will be held accountable, whether you came here three years ago or whether you came here 20 years ago. It will be a function of a very transparent process in which people have an opportunity to be heard. But I spoke with the division yesterday, and I said we have a lot of work to do, we need to move forward and do that work. I have great faith in the passion and talent of the career staff. And we will indeed work hard to ensure our review processes are fair…and people who are doing great work will be rewarded and people who are not doing great work are accountable.
Nnamdi: What do you say to people who say, look, the people who follow the traditional civil rights activists in our nation, many of whom sought relief from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department over the years, even if they’re doing work, even if they are career employees, can generally be considered as politically liberal? So what the Bush administration was simply trying to do was to have some balance among the career employees in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. What you seem to be suggesting is that there’s not likely to be that ideological balance anymore, so we are suspicious.
Perez: That’s not really what I’m saying, Kojo. What I’m saying is that the inspector general report noted that laws were violated, that…inquiries were being made into ideology, things of that nature. Again, when I was on the hiring committee for entry level lawyers in ‘91, ‘92, and ‘93, our charge from Republicans and Democrats was the same: Hire the best qualified people. I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, any other party. I care about whether you have the talent, experience and fire in the belly to do the job. And that is what we are going to return to because that was frankly lost all too frequently in the last eight years. And that’s regrettably documented in the IG report.
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The Office of Special Counsel says in a new report it found no evidence to support a whistle-blower’s claims that the U.S. Attorney’s office for Middle District of Alabama acted inappropriately in its public corruption prosecution of former Gov. Donald E. Siegelman (D) and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.
The OSC launched the investigation following allegations by Tamarah Grimes, a former paralegal in the office, who alleged officials in the district did not report improper jury communications, among other things. The OSC is an independent agency with jurisdiction only to look into Grimes’s claims that she was retaliated against as a whistle-blower. She was fired in July, which she said was due to her attempt to expose the misconduct – a claim the DOJ denied.
Grimes also claimed the Middle District caused the government to incur unnecessary costs due to gross mismanagement. She said victim impact funds were misused and that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary abused her authority by obstructing an Office of Personal Responsibility investigation into the conduct of Assistant U.S. Attorney Randolph Neely. She also said officials launched a DOJ Office of Inspector General investigation into her conduct following her whistle-blowing.
Then-Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey ordered an investigation, which was headed by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis and conducted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ronald R. Gallegos of Arizona and Steven K. Mullins of the Western District of Oklahoma. After DOJ determined Grimes’ claims were unfounded, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and House Judiciary commercial and administration law subcommittee Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) requested an additional investigation.
The second investigation by OSC “confirmed DOJ’s initial investigation findings that no improper communication with the jury occurred,” according to this analysis of disclosures, agency investigations and reports, by William E. Reukauf, associate special counsel at OSC. The report is broken into eight parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8. Reukauf signed off on the second investigation in a letter to President Obama.
Siegelman argues he was targeted for prosecution for political reasons. He has appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court.
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House Judiciary Committee lawyer Elliot Mincberg said today at a forum on prosecution misconduct that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering prosecuting former Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division Bradley Scholzman, The Blog of Legal Times reported Friday. Holder had previously said at his confirmation hearing he’d review a decision by the District of Columbia U.S. Attorney’s office not to prosecute Schlozman for allegedly lying in sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007 that he didn’t take political affiliation or ideology into account in DOJ personnel decisions.
We previously reported that a DOJ Inspector General report said Schlozman referred to liberal applicants for positions as “mold spores,” “commies” and “crazy pinkos.” The report concluded that he was “unsuitable for public service.”
Mincberg also said the House Judiciary Committee has obtained a “pretty good number of internal White House memos” as part of its probe into the U.S. Attorney firings of 2006, The BLT reported.
He said the memos provide more details on the firing of the nine U.S. Attorneys under the watch of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to The BLT. He added that the documents are confidential for now. But Mincberg said the closed-door testimonies of former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and former Bush aide Karl Rove will be made public, according to The BLT. Miers met with the House Judiciary Committee this month. The panel has yet to say when it will meet with Rove.
“(The investigation) has already demonstrated, although it is not yet done, that there were clear improper political influence in the decisions being made by a Republican administration to fire Republican U.S. attorneys,” Mincberg said, according to The BLT.
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Eastern District of Pennsylvania Interim U.S. Attorney Michael Levy made several changes to his office’s leadership yesterday, less than a month after he replaced Laurie Magid, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today.
Magid abruptly resigned a month before her 120-day interim appointment was about to expire. She was reportedly not going to be reappointed by a district court amid controversy over a Justice Department Inspector General investigation into her fund raising activities for former Eastern District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, and a negative DOJ review of her management. Levy was promoted from his post as Computer-Crimes Unit Chief after her resignation.
The Inquirer reported that Levy promoted the following six Assistant U.S. Attorneys:
New Post: First Assistant
Old Post: Civil Division Chief
Joined Office: 1986
-Peter F. Schenck
New Post: Criminal Division Chief
Old Post: Commercial and Consumer Fraud Section Head
Joined Office: 1979
New Post: Commercial and Consumer Fraud Section Head
New Post: Criminal Division Deputy Chief for White-Collar Crime
Old Post: Violent-Crime and Counterterrorism Section Deputy Chief
-Stephen A. Miller
New Post: Violent-Crime and Counterterrorism Section Deputy Chief
-Albert S. Glenn
New Post: Computer-Crimes Unit Chief
Levy also said Linda Dale Hoffa, who led the criminal division, will work on Senate Judiciary crime and drugs subcommittee for Chair Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), The Inquirer reported.
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J. Robert Flores, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention during the Bush administration, broke federal ethics and contracting rules when he used ideological considerations in awarding more than $250,000 in sole-source contracts, said a report released by the the DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine today.
The IG did not refer the case to prosecutors for further action against Flores. The report found he subcontracted work to Hector Rene Fonseca, a former Colombian military official, for Aspen SystemslLockheed Martin and later DB Consulting on anti-gang programs from November 2004 to July 2007. The report, however, said Flores broke rules when he only considered Fonseca for a position primarily because of his work on the faith-based group Samaritan’s Purse.
“The position was not open to competition and there was no justification for Fonseca being considered as a ’sole source’ uniquely qualified for the position,” the report said. “Indeed, an earlier request by Flores to hire Fonseca directly as the ’sole source’ was denied by the Office of the [Assistant Attorny General] for [Office of Justice Programs].”
Fonseca was tasked with such responsibilities as conference planning, writing and editing while he was subcontracted. But witnesses interviewed by the IG said they “did not know what Fonseca did for OJJDP and could not point to any benefit to OJJDP programs from Fonseca’s work.”
The DOJ Inspector General found “documentation of Fonseca’s work was not sufficient,” but “Fonseca’s contract was [not] a misuse of OJJDP funds.”
“Flores told the OIG that he did not hire Fonseca to write great reports but rather for the work he could do to further the faith-based initiative,” the report said. “Flores added that he attributed any deficiencies in Fonseca’s reports to Fonseca’s possible difficulties with the English language.”
DOJ Inspector General also investigated the grants Flores and then-Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs Regina Schofield gave to various organizations including the World Golf Foundation’s First Tee Initiative, which has connections to Republicans including former president George H. W. Bush, its honorary chair. The DOJ Inspector General, however, could not determine whether these grants were improperly awarded because there was little documentation regarding the award allocations.
“We were pleased that the OIG concluded its investigation without any further action to be taken with respect to Mr. Flores,” wrote Flores’s attorney Elliot S. Berke, in a letter to the DOJ Inspector General. “We were also pleased to learn that the majority of allegations were determined to be unsubstantiated.”
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