Murray Waas revealed in the National Journal today that Alberto Gonzales “signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides” — chief of staff Kyle Sampson and counsel Monica Goodling, who have both since resigned — “extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department.”
Waas says the memo “suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level”:
A senior executive branch official familiar with the delegation of authority said in an interview that — as was the case with the firings of the U.S. attorneys and the selection of their replacements — the two aides intended to work closely with White House political aides and the White House counsel’s office in deciding which senior Justice Department officials to dismiss and whom to appoint to their posts. “It was an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on,” the official said. [...]
A senior Justice Department official, who did not know of Gonzales’s delegation of authority until contacted by National Journal, said that it posed a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal-justice system because it gave Sampson, Goodling, and the White House control over the hiring of senior officials in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, which oversees all politically sensitive public corruption cases, at the same time that they held authority to hire and fire U.S. attorneys.
In a new statement, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said the secret order “would seem to be evidence of an effort to hardwire control over law enforcement by White House political operatives,” and demanded that it be turned over to congressional investigators immediately:
This memorandum should have been turned over to Senate and House committees as part of requests made in ongoing investigations. I expect the Department of Justice to immediately provide Congress with full information about this troubling decision as well as any other related documents they have failed to turn over to date.
Read Leahy’s full statement below:
Comment of Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On Reports of Confidential Memo Granting Sweeping Hiring/Firing Authority To DOJ Political Officials
April 30, 2007
“It is disturbing to learn that the Attorney General was granting extraordinary and sweeping authority to the same political operatives who were plotting with the White House to dilute our system of checks and balances in the confirmation of U.S. Attorneys.
“This development is highly troubling in what it seems to reveal about White House politicization of key appointees in the Department of Justice. The mass firing of U.S. attorneys appeared to be part of a systematic scheme to inject political influence into the hiring and firing decisions of key justice employees. This secret order would seem to be evidence of an effort to hardwire control over law enforcement by White House political operatives.
“This memorandum should have been turned over to Senate and House committees as part of requests made in ongoing investigations. I expect the Department of Justice to immediately provide Congress with full information about this troubling decision as well as any other related documents they have failed to turn over to date.”