The situation at DOJ: “Institutional Sabotage”

Two TPMuckraker posts by Paul Kiel today confirm an even bleaker behind-the-scenes picture of the chaos at the Department of Justice, in two key divisions, Civil Rights and Criminal.

The first elaborates on a bit from a story last week, wherein a deputy chief in the voting section of the Civil Rights Division, Bob Kengle, was quoted as saying that he’d left because he’d reached his “personal breaking point.” In the post today, Kengle contributes his own account of his time at DOJ, explaining in more detail why he felt he had to leave. It’s a chilling and depressing assessment, but well worth reading.

In an overview, Kengle explains his final decision and outlines the four reasons behind it:

In short, I lost faith in the institution as it had become. This was not the result of just one individual, such as Brad Schlozman, although he certainly did his share and then some. Rather, it was the result of an institutional sabotage after which I concluded that as a supervisor I no longer could protect line attorneys from political appointees, keep the litigation I supervised focused on the law and the facts, ensure that attorneys place civil rights enforcement ahead of partisanship, or pursue cases based solely on merit.

He goes on to expand on each of these issues. Regarding the litigation under his supervision, Kengle writes:

Happily, many matters involving the Voting Section do not implicate partisan concerns, and the career staff have managed to bring and win several very good cases in the past two years that appear to have been unaffected by partisanship. My docket, however, tended to include high-profile cases in which such partisan pressures were a repeated diversion, and my personal conclusion by late 2004 was that my judgment and recommendation no longer would be sufficient to keep partisan influences at bay in my cases.


But by late 2004, I did not believe that I could ensure that following the law and facts would remain a higher priority than partisan favoritism. This was based partly upon my expectation that the Administration, if returned to office, would feel less constraint against heavy-handed management and biased enforcement than had been the case in the aftermath of the controversial 2000 election. To put it bluntly, before 2004 the desire to politicize the Voting Section’s work was evident, but it was tempered by a recognition that there were limits to doing so. That such constraints diminished over time is evidenced by the well-known and ham-fisted handling of decisions involving Texas’ congressional redistricting plan in late 2003 and Georgia’s voter ID law in 2005. My concerns also were greatly magnified by the evident intention of the political appointees to replace Joe Rich after the 2004 election with a new section chief who would be a willing “team player”.

According to Kiel, the voting section, within the Civil Righs Division, is “probably the worst case of politicization at the department.” Given what we’ve seen of late, that’s saying a lot. Kengle’s account does end on the very slightest of positive notes:

In fairness I have the impression that the general climate in the Civil Rights Division under Assistant Attorney General Wan Kim and other new front office personnel has improved somewhat over its predecessor. But with the bar having been lowered so near the ground I cannot say if that is meaningful.

In his second post, Kiel snags a National Journal article by Murray Waas about the extraordinary amount of responsibility secretly given to those two notorious DOJ aides, Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson:

In March of 2006, Waas reports, Alberto Gonzales signed a secret order that gave Goodling and Sampson the authority to hire and fire senior political appointees at the department — the decisions only required Gonzales’ authorization. It cut out other members of the department’s senior leadership from the hiring and firing process.

The order, an official described only as a “senior executive branch official” explains to Waas, “‘was an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on.'”

This clandestine arrangement gave Goodling, Sampson, and of course, the White House, control over the hiring of the most senior officials in the Criminal Division, in addition to the hiring– and firing– of U. S. attorneys.

UPDATE: Think Progress on Patrick Leahy’s response to Gonzales’ secret memo.


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