According to a report from the Revolving Door project, in association with the American Prospect, two officials who were inserted into the Department of Justice during the Donald Trump administration "under suspicious circumstances" continue to hold key positions under Attorney General Merrick Garland.
As the report points out, questions about Garland's pursuit of close Donald Trump aides --including former campaign manager Steve Bannon -- has led to questions and scrutiny about his efforts to get at the root of the January 6th insurrection that forced lawmakers from both parties to flee for their lives.
That, in turn, raises more questions about the influence that Alexander Haas, the current director of the DOJ Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch, and Curtis Gannon, currently serving in a career position of deputy solicitor general, are having within the department.
In the case of Hass, Eleanor Eagan reports that he was initially hired as an assistant U.S. attorney in the DOJ only to be suddenly be promoted to "chief of staff and special counsel to Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Chad Readler."
"It’s not just the timing that’s unusual here. Almost without exception, chiefs of staff to assistant attorney generals are political appointees. On paper, however, Haas appears to have remained an assistant U.S. attorney, with his stint in the Civil Division front office a temporary detail," she wrote before adding, "If he was going to be transferred into a political role so quickly, why was he not hired into that position to begin with? Was there some reason it was preferable that he be hired as a career official?"
According to the report, Haas spearheaded cases near and dear to the Trump administration's heart, including, in one case, defending "the Trump administration in a case challenging the federal government’s refusal to allow a 17-year-old ICE detainee access to an abortion."
"In 2020, Haas defended the Trump administration’s efforts to truncate the 2020 census, a move that civil rights groups labeled a backdoor effort at disenfranchisement. Haas also put his name to a Justice Department complaint against Melania Trump’s former adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff for publishing her tell-all memoir. Legal experts decried the filing as 'legally unenforceable,'" the report continues.
As for Gannon, Eagan reports, that from January to November 2017 he led the Office of Legal Counsel where he defended Trump's refugee ban.
Moving to the solicitor general's office, Gannon "argued before the Supreme Court that Nestlé cannot be held liable for its reliance on child slavery and, most recently, that Puerto Ricans can be denied Social Security benefits (a position that Biden himself opposes)."
The report notes that what Gannon has done is described as "burrowing" which makes staffers difficult to be scrutinized.
Writing, "Agencies that want to hire political officials into career roles must first receive approval from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Sadly, OPM faced its own struggles with politicization during the Trump administration, casting serious doubt on the integrity of its approval process," Eagan adds, "Officials who were paying attention should have seen this coming. Trump and his associates had no qualms breaking the rules to maintain power. Is it a stretch to think that they might have done the same for hiring?"
Adding the caveat, "Can we say beyond a shadow of a doubt that these officials were hired improperly?" she cautioned, "It’s clear that each case warrants thorough investigation. What’s more, Garland must take these examples to their logical end. If these hiring processes were politicized, what others may have been? Leaving the public to wonder about critical questions like these is a grave threat to Garland’s stated mission to restore trust in his department."
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