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Mukasey Refuses To Hold Accountable Officials Who Politicized Justice Department Honors Program

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"Mukasey Refuses To Hold Accountable Officials Who Politicized Justice Department Honors Program"

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In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Russ Feingold (D-WI) sharply criticized the Bush administration for politicizing the Justice Department’s internship and Honors programs. In fact, one of Feingold’s former law clerks was denied a spot, in part because he had worked for the progressive senator.

Feingold pressed Mukasey on how the Bush administration would hold the people who committed the wrongdoings accountable. Mukasey began stumbling over his words and attempting to dodge the question. When pressed further by Feingold, Mukasey continued to hedge:

FEINGOLD: But what about accountability for those who did this?

MUKASEY: I think that, um, to the extent that there is to be accountability, that was covered in the OIG report. People who were, uh, deficient, uh, were, uh, are — some of them are no longer at the Department, others came in for criticism.

FEINGOLD: Well, I want a review —

MUKASEY: Um, if you can point to any criminal laws that were violated, obviously those —

FEINGOLD: I will take this up more later, but thank you for that initial response.

Watch it:

The IG/OPR report found extensive wrong doing by Bush political appointees. In particular, Michael Elston, formerly the chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General, “violated federal law and Department policy” by selecting candidates based on their political affiliations.

In addition to Elston, the report singles out Esther Slater McDonald, a former DOJ counsel whose conduct also “constituted misconduct and also violated the Department’s policies and civil service law.” Yet as the report notes, both Elston and McDonald have resigned:

However, because both McDonald and Elston have resigned from the Department, they are no longer subject to discipline by the Department for their actions. Nevertheless, we recommend that the Department consider the findings in this report should either McDonald or Elston apply in the future for another position with the Department.

Mukasey basically believes that because McDonald and Elston happened to step down from the Justice Department before they could be further investigated, the subject is closed.

Transcript:

FEINGOLD: Let me start by commenting on the Inspector General’s and Office of Professional Responsibility’s recent report on politicized hiring in the Department’s Honors program. The report notes that one of the candidates who was almost certainly rejected for political reasons was a young man who was first in his class at Georgetown Law Center, clerked for a district judge and also on the Second Circuit, but he also made a mistake. And that was working as a law clerk for my Judiciary Committee staff, which apparently played a part in disqualifying him from an Honors program position.

He now works for Solicitor General of the state of New York, so he has done fine. But for the most petty and inappropriate of reasons, the Department of Justice lost out on a very talented young lawyer. The people responsible not only intentionally interfered with the careers of fine young lawyers, but they damaged the Department and the nation.

I want you to know that I find this conduct unacceptable and truly hope the promises you made to end this kind of behavior at the Department are being kept.

So my question to you know, however, is more specific. In light of the report, what specific actions have you taken, and what further actions do you intend to take, to hold those who broke the law here accountable?

MUKASEY: We have put in place a system that assures that all hiring with regard to the Honors program and with regard to the summer internship program is entirely in the hands of career lawyers. And obviously, anybody who is qualified to serve in the Department of Justice, is welcome to submit his or her application and to be evaluated on the merits.

FEINGOLD: But what about accountability for those who did this?

MUKASEY: I think that, um, to the extent that there is to be accountability, that was covered in the OIG report. People who were, uh, deficient, uh, were, uh, are — some of them are no longer at the Department, others came in for criticism.

FEINGOLD: Well, I want a review —

MUKASEY: Um, if you can point to any criminal laws that were violated, obviously those —

FEINGOLD: I will take this up more later, but thank you for that initial response. I am very concerned that the message be clear that this was unacceptable and requires real accountability.

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