August 13, 2008 in Nation/World

Mukasey: No plans to seek charges in Gonzales hirings

By Richard B. Schmitt Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Tuesday that the Justice Department has no plans to bring criminal charges in connection with hiring abuses that took place under his predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales.

Mukasey said the findings in two recent reports by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine – that a group of influential Gonzales aides considered politics and ideology in hiring career employees and summer interns – were “disturbing” and “unprofessional.” The aides violated civil-service laws and department regulations, Mukasey observed, but they did not commit crimes that could send them to jail.

“Where there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we vigorously investigate it. And where there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we vigorously prosecute,” Mukasey said in a speech to the American Bar Association in New York. “But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime. In this instance, the two joint reports found only violations of the civil-service laws.”

The decision not to prosecute means that some of the scandal’s best-known figures – such as Monica M. Goodling, a lawyer and public affairs officer who became a gatekeeper in the department under Gonzales – probably will emerge relatively unscathed.

In a report last month, Goodling and Gonzales’ former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, were found to have violated department regulations and civil-service laws by considering political views and other factors in deciding whether to recommend hiring immigration judges and other career employees. Michael J. Elston, a top aide to then-Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, was faulted in an earlier report for politicizing the hiring of summer interns and attorneys for the department’s honors program.

Violation of federal civil-service laws can, in the most extreme cases, lead to dismissal. But since Goodling, Sampson and Elston left the Justice Department last year, they no longer can be sanctioned under department rules or civil-service regulations.

“The attorney general, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, seems intent on insulating this administration from accountability,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday. Because key aspects of the scandal – including the possible involvement of White House aides – remain unknown, Mukasey’s remarks were “premature,” Leahy said.

Mukasey didn’t rule out charges arising from two other reports that Fine is preparing, including one related to the politically charged dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. He also said that some former aides might be subject to discipline by state bar authorities and denied that those who engaged in misconduct had suffered no consequences.

“The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity,” he said. “Their misconduct has now been laid bare by the Justice Department for all to see.”

Lawyers for Sampson, now a partner at a Washington law firm, and Goodling, believed to be a public-relations consultant, declined comment. A lawyer for Elston, also a Washington law firm partner, couldn’t be reached.

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