Mukasey says DOJ suffered from ‘institutional weakness’

 

Monica Goodling testifies before House Judiciary Committee in May 2007. (Pete Sousa/Chicago Tribune)

Monica Goodling testifies before House Judiciary Committee in May 2007. (Pete Souza/Chicago Tribune)

Attorney General Michael Mukasey Wednesday sent a letter to all employees of the Justice Department, repudiating the actions of former department official Monica Goodling and others who, a recent report said, made politically motivated hiring decisions.

Goodling was White House liaison while the department was run by Alberto Gonzales, himself the former White House counsel. A report from the department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, released Monday said Goodling was the primary actor in hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges based on their political leanings.

Goodling quizzed candidates about their positions on social issues, particularly abortion. Among other things, she reportedly asked candidates: “What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?”

Here’s what Mukasey wrote:

I was disturbed and disappointed by those reports: disturbed by the finding that some Department employees had violated federal law, rules and regulations; and disappointed that these actions have harmed the reputation of this great institution.

I want to reiterate to each of you what I have said repeatedly in private meetings with Department employees and in public appearances: It is neither permissible nor acceptable to consider political affiliations in the hiring of career Department employees. I have acted, and will continue to act, to ensure that these words are translated into reality so that what is described in the recent OIG/OPR reports does not recur.

Mukasey, a former federal judge tabbed last year to clean up the troubled department, said DOJ has taken steps to prohibit politically motivated hiring decisions and said that Justice had suffered from “institutional weakness.” But, he told employees, there was still room for improvement, saying “we continue to consider ways to improve the Department institutionally.”

You can read the IG report here.

Full text of the Mukasey letter after the jump. 

                                          Message from the Attorney General

When I was sworn in as Attorney General last November, I pledged that I would work with you to ensure the even-handed application of the Constitution and the laws enacted under it.  That pledge includes ensuring the even-handed application of the laws within our own Department.

As I expect you know, the Department’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility have recently released two joint reports setting forth their findings that improper political considerations were used in hiring decisions relating to certain career employees, including Immigration Judges, Assistant United States Attorneys, and employees detailed to offices in Main Justice, and relating to candidates for the Attorney General’s Honors Program and the Summer Law Intern Program. 

I was disturbed and disappointed by those reports: disturbed by the finding that some Department employees had violated federal law, rules and regulations; and disappointed that these actions have harmed the reputation of this great institution. 

I want to reiterate to each of you what I have said repeatedly in private meetings with Department employees and in public appearances:  It is neither permissible nor acceptable to consider political affiliations in the hiring of career Department employees.  I have acted, and will continue to act, to ensure that these words are translated into reality so that what is described in the recent OIG/OPR reports does not recur. 

I also want to let you know that the Department has acted.  Indeed, many of the problems identified by OIG and OPR were addressed before the reports were issued.  For example, last year the Department revised the processes for hiring Immigration Judges, Honors Program candidates and summer law interns.  More recently, I instituted mandatory training for all political appointees regarding prohibited personnel practices.  And I have directed implementation of all the institutional recommendations made in the OIG/OPR joint reports. 

Many dedicated Department employees – both career and political appointees – have worked hard to revise policies and procedures to ensure that the types of improper activities detailed in the OIG/OPR reports are prevented in the future.  These revised policies and procedures will serve the Department long after my tenure as Attorney General is finished.

Although I am confident that the Department has taken important steps to address the institutional weaknesses that contributed to the improprieties reported so far, we continue to consider ways to improve the Department institutionally.   In addition, OIG and OPR have indicated that there are two more joint reports to be issued.  I do not know when those reports will be issued or what they will find.  I am hopeful that they will recognize the many changes and actions taken by current Department employees to address the relevant issues.  But I will review carefully those reports and any recommendations in them, as I have past reports, and I will not hesitate to respond as appropriate. 

I wanted to communicate this information to you directly, to make clear just how seriously I take these issues and to show that the Department has taken, and will continue to take, action in response to the problems identified in these reports. 

Although the publication of these reports and the headlines they generate are painful for all who work here, they are an important part of determining and acknowledging what went wrong and why it went wrong, and crucial to ensuring that we do not again have to face such problems.  Unfortunately, overlooked in many of the headlines and editorials about these reports is the valuable and skillful work you are doing on behalf of the American people.  I ask each of you to keep it up, and thank you for your dedicated efforts.

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