Schlozman admits boasting of Republican hires
As the latest Justice Department official to appear before congressional investigators, Bradley Schlozman admitted Tuesday afternoon to boasting about his success in hiring Republicans or conservatives into career attorney positions within the department.
Although he denied taking political considerations into account, the former acting US Attorney for the Western District of Kansas admitted under questioning from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that he may have touted the new hires' conservative credentials in conversation. Schumer asked if Schlozman ever "boasted" about hiring Republican lawyers.
"I probably did make statements like that," said Schlozman, who also oversaw the Justice Department's Civil Rights Divison.
Schlozman also acknowledged receiving recommendations on potential hires from a top official in conservative lawyers' group the Federalist Society.
The politicization of hiring decisions within the Department of Justice -- whose career attorneys are expected to operate independent of partisan concerns -- is at the heart of an ongoing scandal surrounding the dismissal of at least nine US Attorneys.
Senators also grilled Schlozman about his role in handing down indictments in a voting fraud case just before the 2006 election. The indictments against voter-registration recruiters for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which works to increase registration among minority voters.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's chairman, pressed Schlozman, who at the time was acting US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, on why he went forward with the indictments even though Justice Department regulations recommend holding off on voter fraud prosecutions until after the election.
Leahy seemed flabbergasted by Schlozman's assertion that he didn't think the prosecutions would have any effect on the election. Critics argue that stringent voter-fraud prosecutions, especially leading up to an election, suppresses turnout among minority voters, who traditionally support Democrats.
The exchange grew heated when Schlozman tried to insist that the Justice Department does not time prosecutions based on election dates.
"Yes they do!" Leahy yelled, burnishing the "Red Book" of department regulations that contains the recommendation to avoid prosecutions around Election Day.
Testifying later in the day, Schlozman's predecessor as US Attorney in Kansas, Todd Graves, said he was aware of the Justice Department's reticence to filing election fraud charges so close to an election.
"It surprised me that (charges against ACORN organizers) had been filed that close to an election," Graves said.
Graves, who was asked to resign in January 2006, said he did not hold a grudge against anyone in the Justice Department. The Washington Post has reported that the circumstances surrounding Graves' dismissal mirror those of eight other US Attorneys who were fired for allegedly political reasons.
Graves told the committee he had been planning on leaving the US Attorney's office that year to pursue private practice and had assumed he had been asked to step down early to give President Bush a chance to find his replacement before the 2006 congressional elections. He acknowledged, though, that Schlozman was not well-known in Missouri legal circles before he took over.
"I was sort of indifferent" about Schlozman, Graves told the committee. "I'd never heard of him before i talked to him on the phone."
A review of Schlozman's hires by the Boston Globe found a decidedly more conservative bent in the attorneys he hired. Half of the 14 lawyers he hired were members of either the conservative Federalist Society or the Republican National Lawyers Association. No career lawyers hired in the two years before Schlozman took over were members of such groups.
Schlozman gave conflicting accounts of whether he received recommendations from either group, and he told Schumer he had encouraged applicants to remove political information on their resumes on at least a few occasions, though he would not be specific.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., asked whether Schlozman ever received recommendations from a variety of conservative lawyers and department officials. He denied receiving job candidates from Monica Goodling, who admitted she "crossed the line" in injecting politics into hiring decisions, and former Gonzales Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson.
But Schlozman did admit receiving guidance from Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society.
"I may have gotten a recommendation from him for a candidate," Schlozman told Feingold, but he continued to offer no specifics.
Schlozman has been accused of injecting politics into hiring decisions within the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which is in charge of ensuring equal access to the polls for all Americans. As RAW STORY reported last month, an internal Justice Department investigation was expanded to include an examination of hiring practices within the division he previously oversaw.
Career lawyers within the Civil Rights division have said Schlozman was a key figure in moving the division's mission away from its original mandate to increase access to voters who had traditionally faced discrimination. They allege Schlozman emphasized on voter fraud cases critics say are designed to disenfranchise the very voters civil rights laws are aimed at helping.
"It is typical in Republican administrations [that] the political appointees generally have a very different approach to the laws than the career attorneys in that office," Noel Francisco, who worked in the White House Counsel's office earlier in the Bush administration, told Legal Times. "The attorneys in that office have a reputation for advancing a liberal interpretation of the laws."
(Correction: Schumer was incorrectly identified as Republican)