WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is expanding its internal inquiry to look into new allegations that senior department officials improperly filled career jobs based on applicants' Republican or conservative credentials.
In a joint announcement Wednesday, officials at the department's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility said their inquiry now included scrutiny of hiring in the Civil Rights Division, which oversees voting rights.
Politicization of civil service positions could violate department policy or federal law.
Congress is in the midst of its own investigation into whether the ousters of nine U.S. attorneys last year were connected to Republican desires to bring more vote-fraud cases against Democrats in battleground states and whether there was a larger pattern of politicization at the Justice Department.
The Justice Department had acknowledged that its watchdogs are evaluating the propriety of the department's firings of the prosecutors and personnel decisions by Monica Goodling, a former counselor and White House liaison, who told a House of Representatives committee last week that she "crossed the lines" by applying political litmus tests when hiring career professionals.
It couldn't be determined whether the Goodling inquiry will be expanded to include what direction she received from higher-ups within the department or the White House.
The announcement Wednesday, however, indicated that the internal inquiry is looking more broadly at charges of politicization across the department.
In brief letters notifying the House and Senate of their plans, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel for the Office of Professional Responsibility, say they're looking into hiring and personnel decisions by Goodling and others along with hiring within the Civil Rights Division, the department's honors program and its summer law-intern program. Neither Fine nor Jarrett returned calls requesting comment.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, said in statements that the expanded inquiry showed the need for ongoing congressional oversight.
In recent weeks, McClatchy Newspapers has detailed controversial actions by Bradley Schlozman, a former interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City and top official in the Civil Rights Division, including a decision to charge four people with voter fraud just days before the 2006 elections. A Justice Department policy advises against such timing.
Schlozman, who continues to work at the Justice Department, is to appear next Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about his hiring practices as well as his possible role in an alleged administration effort to suppress minority votes.
Congressional investigators also are examining allegations that Schlozman hired lawyers based on their political affiliations.
Schlozman served as the division's top deputy from 2003 until the spring of 2005 and then as acting chief until late November 2005.
In a March interview with McClatchy, he denied allegations of politicization, saying he'd "tried to de-politicize the hiring process" and had filled jobs with applicants from "across the political spectrum. . . . I didn't care what your ideological perspective was."
However, former employees of the division's Voting Rights Section, whose decisions can affect the outcome of elections, told McClatchy that eight lawyers had been hired there since 2004 largely because of their Republican or conservative connections.
Two former department lawyers said that when they'd applied for jobs elsewhere in the division in early 2005, Schlozman had asked them to delete mention on their resumes of Republican affiliations and resubmit them. Both attorneys were hired.
One of them, Ty Clevenger, said Schlozman "wanted to make it look like it was apolitical." Clevenger also said that when he'd passed along a resume from a fellow Stanford University Law School graduate, Schlozman had asked, "Is he one of us?"
Clevenger later filed an unrelated whistleblower's complaint alleging that he was fired for complaining to top department officials of mistreatment by his boss.
Goodling resigned last month over the firing controversy. She testified last week that she'd also applied political standards to hiring civil service immigration judges, based on direction from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, who also has since resigned.
Goodling testified under an arrangement that granted her immunity from prosecution for her sworn statements.
In other development, the Justice Department said Wednesday that Tim Griffin, the interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., since last December, would resign his post effective June 1.
Griffin, a former Republican Party opposition researcher, has been a controversial figure in the firing controversy because of his close ties to White House political adviser Karl Rove and allegations that he was part of a GOP effort in 2004 to get minorities knocked off of voting rolls. Republican Party officials have denied any impropriety.
To make way for Griffin, the White House and Justice Department last year sought U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins' resignation.
Griffin at one point might have stayed on through the remainder of Bush's term. But when it was revealed that he was installed using a change to the USA Patriot Act that took away the Senate's power to reject him, Griffin said he would stay on only until a permanent replacement was nominated. As of Wednesday, it was unclear who that nominee would be. The Justice Department notified Congress that Griffin's first assistant, Jane W. Duke, would serve as acting U.S. attorney.
Griffin could not be reached for comment.
Said Michael Teague, spokesman for Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.: "This is a positive development, and Senator Pryor looks forward to restoring credible leadership in the U.S. Attorney's office."