Mukasey Won't Pursue Charges in Hiring Inquiry

Tuesday, 12 August 2008 15:54 By Eric Lichtblau, Truthout | name.

Mukasey Won

    Washington - Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Tuesday rejected the idea of criminally prosecuting former Justice Department employees who improperly used political litmus tests in hiring decisions, saying he had already taken strong internal steps in response to a "painful" episode.

    Two recent reports from the Justice Department inspector general and its internal ethics office have found that about a half-dozen officials at the Justice Department - all but one now gone - systematically rejected candidates with perceived "liberal" backgrounds for what were supposed to be non-political jobs and sought out conservative Republicans.

    In a speech Tuesday morning to the American Bar Association in New York, Mr. Mukasey acknowledged that some critics and commentators have called on the Justice Department to take what he called "more drastic steps" in dealing with the scandal, including prosecuting those at fault and firing those hired through flawed procedures.

    "Where there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we vigorously prosecute," he said. "But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime," he said. As the inspector general's report acknowledged, the hiring violations were such a case, because the wrongdoing violated federal civil service law, but not criminal law, he said.

    "That does not mean, as some people have suggested, that those officials who were found by the joint reports to have committed misconduct have suffered no consequences," Mr. Mukasey said. "Far from it. The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the Department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity.

    "Their misconduct has now been laid bare by the Justice Department for all to see," he continued. "As a general matter in such cases, where disciplinary referrals are appropriate, they are made. To put it in concrete terms, I doubt that anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people."

    Mr. Mukasey also said it would be unfair, and possibly illegal, for the department to go back and reassign or dismiss those lawyers and other employees who were hired in part because they were seen as trusted conservatives. "Two wrongs do not make a right," he said.

    The inspector general is expected to issue at least two additional reports on the politicization of the Justice Department, including his findings on the firings of nine United States attorneys in late 2006 under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 August 2008 16:56