Thursday, April 03, 2008

Justice (?) department hijinx

I'm never quite sure why the overt politicizing of the Justice Department hasn't gotten more people mad. Maybe people just don't care about lawyers, but it seems to me that harming the top prosecutors in the country for raw political reasons would strike a chord with people.

Here's another story by Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/81130/) detailing some more shocking aspects of the story.

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In Bush’s Justice Dept, Being Gay Is "Even Worse Than Being a Democrat"

About a year ago, we learned in jaw-dropping detail about the questions asked of those seeking employment at Bush’s Justice Department. Thanks to Alberto Gonzales and Monica Goodling — remember them? — job applicants for civil service jobs were quizzed with all kind of personal questions that the DoJ couldn’t legally ask. This went well beyond just isolating registered Democrats as inherently untrustworthy — though Goodling did that, too — and included one applicant being asked, “Have you ever cheated on your wife?”

But what about all of those Justice Department employees who were already on staff when Goodling & Co. got there? It was too late to ask them personal questions during their interviews. How, then, could they ensure that DoJ employees were pure by conservative Republican standards?

Apparently, they found ways. (via Paul Kiel)

The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating whether a career attorney in the department was dismissed from her job because of rumors that she is a lesbian. The case grew out of a larger inquiry into the firings of U.S. attorneys and politicization at Justice under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Several people interviewed by the inspector general’s staff described the case to NPR and said they came away with the impression that the Attorney General’s office decided not to renew Leslie Hagen’s contract because of the talk about her sexual orientation. Hagen received the highest possible ratings for her work as liaison between the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys’ committee on Native American issues. Her final job evaluation lists five categories for supervisors to rank her performance. For each category, a neat X fills the box marked, “Outstanding.” And at the bottom of the page, under “overall rating level,” she also got the top mark: Outstanding.

The form is dated February 1, 2007. Several months before that evaluation, Hagen was told her contract would not be renewed.
After Hagen won awards for her work as a federal prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger recruited her to DC for her job, because, as he put it, she was “the best qualified person in the nation.” Everyone Hagen worked with raved about her amazing work and her supervisors were anxious to renew her contract.

But as we know all too well, in the Bush administration, qualifications and outstanding on-the-job performance hardly matter.

Justice Department e-mails obtained by NPR show that Gonzales’s senior counsel Monica Goodling had a particular interest in Hagen’s duties. A few months before Hagen was let go, according to one e-mail, Goodling removed part of Hagen’s job portfolio — the part dealing with child exploitation and abuse. […]

[B]y all accounts, Hagen was a GOP loyalist. So, what was Goodling’s problem with Hagen?
The Justice Department’s inspector general is looking into whether Hagen was dismissed after a rumor reached Goodling that Hagen is a lesbian. As one Republican source put it, “To some people, that’s even worse than being a Democrat.”
Several people interviewed by the inspector general’s staff said investigators asked whether people drew a connection between the rumors and Hagen’s dismissal. The witnesses, who spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity, said they felt that the rumors led to the decision not to renew Hagen’s contract.
Someone who worked in Hagen’s office says that in a 2006 meeting, senior officials were told that Hagen’s contract would not be renewed because someone on the attorney general’s staff had a problem with Hagen. The problem, it was suggested during the conversation, was sexual orientation — or what was rumored to be Hagen’s sexual orientation.

One person at the meeting asked, “Is that really an issue?” But the decision had been made.
I realize it’s foolish of me to be surprised by anything the Bush administration does, but Hagen’s case is rather extraordinary. Respected lawyer, impeccable credentials Republican loyalist, outstanding performance evaluations — everything the Bush gang could hope for. But then the graduate of Pat Robertson’s college heard Hagen might be gay, and despite the requests of Hagen’s supervisors, Hagen was gone.

I know a few too many Dems are at each other’s throats right now over just awful (fill in the blank with Clinton or Obama) is when compared to (fill in the blank with Clinton or Obama), but stories like this one are a reminder of why we need a Democratic president in 2009. There’s just too much work that needs to be done, too many agencies that need to be repaired, and too many messes that need to be cleaned up. What happened to Hagen happened at the Justice Department, for crying out loud.

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