July 29, 2008

The Center of the Corruption

[Click on image to go to interactive site]

Last week, Slate.com published a handy interactive guide to the tangled web of Bush Administration crimes and misdemeanors, focusing on the key players. Looking at this morass, what stands out is the conspicuous, central role of Alberto Gonzales in virtually every major scandal, from Department of Justice (DOJ) political hiring and firing, to illegal wiretapping, to the destruction of video tapes documenting the interrogation of prisoners in the "War on Terror," to America's policy of torture.

Monday brought news that a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general and its internal ethics office has concluded that key aides to Mr. Gonzales violated the law by using political criteria in the hiring and firing of DOJ civil service staff. While this is probably one of the least dramatic of the myriad betrayals of the nation under George W. Bush, it is one with some of the most highly damaging and far-reaching effects, literally giving federal law enforcement a role in the political process. Under Monica Goodling and her co-conspirators, the most important qualification for the hiring, advancement and retention of key personnel was ideology, and more experienced and well-regarded job candidates were passed over in favor of lesser individuals with the "right" political persuasion. From the report:

Battle stated that Voris told him that the candidate was head and shoulders above the other candidates who had applied for the counterterrorism detail. Battle agreed with that assessment, stating that the candidate was the best applicant for the detail. John Kelly, the EOUSA Deputy Director and Chief of Staff, stated that he and Battle wanted to hire the candidate because he was one of the leading terrorism prosecutors in the country and a very talented attorney.

The candidate’s wife was a prominent local Democrat elected official and vice-chairman of a local Democratic Party. She also ran several Democratic congressional campaigns. The candidate was at times a registered Independent and at other times a registered Democrat.

Notwithstanding the candidate’s outstanding qualifications and EOUSA senior management’s desire to hire him, Goodling refused to approve the detail.

Battle, Kelly, and EOUSA Deputy Director Nowacki all told us that Goodling refused to allow the candidate to be detailed to EOUSA solely on the basis of his wife’s political party affiliation. Battle said he was very upset that Goodling opposed the detail because of political reasons.

Nowacki told us that Goodling informed him that the candidate’s wife was a Democrat, and Nowacki believed that Goodling refused to allow the detail because of this fact. Similarly, Kelly told us that Goodling refused to allow EOUSA to hire the candidate because his wife was active in Democratic politics.
This Republican White House - whose supporters have been so convinced that the GOP will keep America "safe" from terrorism - has been more concerned with making sure that only the ideologically pure were hired than with putting qualified people in the positions where they could do the most good. As the Hurricane Katrina debacle demonstrated in the person of the incompetent Michael Brown, few things make us less safe than political cronyism. The Department of Justice is not only at the center of the Bush Administrations deepest corruption, it also most embodies it.

Sadly, Ms. Goodling was granted immunity in exchange for the testimony she gave Congress last year, and which was the motivating force behind the investigation into hiring and firing practices. Unless it can be proven that she perjured herself in that testimony, she will walk away from her crimes without so much as a slap on the wrist. Given the complete lack of accountability in Washington these days, that's not surprising, but unless the DOJ report leads to the conviction of others - most notably Alberto Gonzales - it will be no less disgusting.

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