Leahy calls hearing on Justice Department hiring practices

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(Host) A government watchdog will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today to answer questions about political hiring at the Justice Department.

Senator Patrick Leahy says he called the hearing so he can get to the bottom of what he says is improper influence by partisan appointees throughout government.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Glenn Fine isn’t well known outside Washington.

But as inspector general at the Justice Department, he holds tremendous power to investigate the inner workings of government.

And he released a report earlier this week detailing how Justice Department appointees were screened to make sure they supported the president and various Republican causes.

Leahy says he’s not surprised by the revelations. But he wants to know if there’s more to come.

(Leahy) "I want to know how much more he’s going to be doing investigation. What the investigation has turned up. And whether he thinks this is going to lead to some prosecutions.”

(Sneyd) It’s illegal to take politics into consideration when hiring people for many of the career jobs at the Justice Department.

This week’s report says top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales broke civil service laws. It’s not clear, yet, whether they could be prosecuted for that, because they’ve left their government jobs.

But Leahy says he believes some of the Gonzales aides could be headed to court.

(Leahy) “They’ve left the government, you can’t punish them as a government worker, you can’t demote them, you can’t do those kinds of things. But if the criminal laws are broken, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re in the government or not.”

(Sneyd) There still hasn’t been a report about the controversy that first prompted the investigation. Nine federal prosecutors were fired by the Justice Department. Democrats say the prosecutors were let go because of partisan politics. Leahy says he looks forward to the outcome of that investigation.

Leahy also has been tangling with the administration over the Environmental Protection Agency.

He says the EPA has let politics dictate its decisions on the environment, including requests by Vermont and other states to impose stricter emission controls on cars.

But Leahy stopped short of calling for EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to resign, which two other Democratic senators have done.

(Leahy) "He’s going to be out of office in a matter of months, anyway. But I think even more importantly, he doesn’t deserve to keep the job that he’s in. But I want to know how much danger was the American public put in because they were hiding these reports on environmental damage.”

(Sneyd) The Judiciary Committee intended to interrogate Johnson about legal issues that have come up at the EPA. But Johnson refused to appear, so the committee shifted its attention back to the Justice Department.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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