Attorney Firings Were Clearly Based on Politics, Not Performance

A lot of media time has focused on the U.S. attorneys scandal and players such as Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, staffers who suddenly hit the spotlight. When I read the 33-year-old Goodling’s bio of being educated at a very conservative school in Pennsylvania, Messiah College, and the law school founded by Pat Robertson, Regent Law, in Virginia Beach, bells went off in my head.

I remember reading several articles about the sudden change in the Justice Department’s recruiting of lawyers early on in the Bush administration. Under John Ashcroft, many of the new lawyers were not chosen on the basis of competence, performance, legal training or law school record, but rather by their ideology and their politics.

As a political guy, I understand the appointment of “political people” to “political jobs.” Unfortunately, this was not what was happening at the Justice Department. One Washington Post article in January of 2003 detailed how the “new” Justice Department was operating in a totally different way from previous administrations, Republican or Democratic.

The focus of that article, and several others, was the Justice Department’s Honors Program, a career, not political, program designed to recruit the best and brightest from top law schools throughout the nation. The Honors Program was started over 50 years ago by the noted attorney general for President Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Brownell.

This program suddenly became a tool for the political people at Justice to take over and install lawyers who adhered to a political line.

So it seems ironic that the Justice Department’s initial explanation for the firings of U.S. attorneys was that such decisions were “performance-related.” Now we know that was a lie and that they were motivated by politics, retribution or personal pique. And now we know that in a great many cases those hired at Justice because of “performance” were really just political replacements. The age-old Honors Program has suddenly become Dis-Honorable.

Maybe we need a new attorney general to set it right.

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