Attorney General Michael Mukasey has decided to let bygones be bygones in the case of his predecessor’s top aides’ shameless attempt to politicize the Justice department.
Internal department investigations documented how the staff of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales screened candidates for career, nonpolitical positions on the basis of politics and ideology, asking irrelevant — and illegal — questions about such matters as their support for President Bush and their positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.
Such litmus tests are in violation of department regulations and the civil service laws, but the five worst culprits have left the department and Mukasey believes they are beyond any reasonable efforts to prosecute.
But, Mukasey said, they don’t escape totally unscathed. The department is forwarding its findings of misconduct to their local bar associations for possible disciplinary action. And, he said, "The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity." Overcoming bad publicity is a minor industry in Washington.
The job applicants — for the posts of career prosecutors and immigration judges, and the department’s internships and honors program — who were wrongly denied jobs will be invited to reapply but only for open positions. Some of them have already filed discrimination lawsuits.
Mukasey said the department was not going to try to identify, let alone fire or reassign, the lawyers and immigration judges who got their jobs because of their conservative credentials. One reason is that they are now protected by the same civil service laws that were flouted to give them those jobs in the first place.
Mukasey says that he has taken steps to see that this kind of politicization doesn’t recur, but as much as he might wish, the scandal isn’t going away. The internal investigations, the candor of which has done much to redeem the department, have additional studies coming on the firings of those nine U.S. attorneys and attempts to politicize the civil rights division.
As it stands: The people who trashed the department’s reputation, basically get away with it. Those who got their jobs improperly get to keep them. And those who were unfairly rejected, well, they get to try again.