Leahy: Leaked Justice Department memo 'disturbing,' should have been turned over
The chair of the Senate committee that is investigating the firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys by the Justice Department called news of a classified internal memo on hiring and firing authority granted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to his staff "disturbing." He also chided the Justice Department for failing to turn the memo over as it produced documents upon Congressional request.
"It is disturbing to learn that the Attorney General was granting extraordinary and sweeping authority to the same political operatives who were plotting with the White House to dilute our system of checks and balances in the confirmation of U.S. Attorneys," Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a statement.
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, added, "This memorandum should have been turned over to Senate and House committees as part of requests made in ongoing investigations. I expect the Department of Justice to immediately provide Congress with full information about this troubling decision as well as any other related documents they have failed to turn over to date."
The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman was referring to the revelation of the memo published in the National Journal late on Monday.
"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides -- who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys -- extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department," wrote Murray Waas at the Journal.
He went on, "In the order, Gonzales delegated to his then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and his White House liaison 'the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration' of virtually all non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department, including all of the department's political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Monica Goodling became White House liaison in April 2006, the month after Gonzales signed the order."
A government official who remained anonymous described to Waas the political motivations of the delegation of authority.
"It 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," the official told the National Journal.
Leahy slammed the alleged strategy in his statement.
"This secret order would seem to be evidence of an effort to hardwire control over law enforcement by White House political operatives," he said.
But Waas showed that the White House was of the opinion that the memo implied nothing improper.
"The job of a chief of staff is to work with the White House liaison to hire qualified people," White House spokesperson Tony Fratto told the National Journal. "The White House has full authority in hiring and firing presidential appointees [and] can choose to delegate that authority. There is no need for written authority to exercise that power."
Leahy's statement can be accessed at the Senator's website. The full National Journal article is accessible at this link.