Justice employees' membership in GOP group seen as 'inappropriate'
As scrutiny increases on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a new report reveals that dozens of Bush appointees are members of a partisan organization of lawyers.
The appointees and civil servants include "at least 25 in the Justice Department, nine in the Department of Defense and others in the Labor and Commerce departments, the White House and the Office of Special Counsel, which oversees investigations into allegations of ethical misconduct by government employees," report Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev for McClatchy Newspapers.
Though government employees are allowed to participate in political organizations, some ex-Justice Department lawyers find this behavior inappropriate, Taylor and Talev write.
The Republican National Lawyers Association, which trains lawyers to monitor elections, has several members who work in the Justice Department's voting section.
The Justice Department denies any improper behavior, but after being contacted by McClatchy, the profiles of at least two members of the Republican National Lawyers Association were edited to remove information connecting them to the Department of Justice.
Some former and current government lawyers told McClatchy that the website listings were evidence of federal agencies taking a "more permissive – even encouraging – stance toward partisan political activism."
"There's a fine line between honoring the First Amendment rights of the employee and upholding the integrity of the Justice Department. It seems to me that we're teetering over that line here," former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson, told McClatchy.
"It's unknown how many of the government's lawyers, if any, are performing partisan election work on the side as result of being members of the group," concluded the report.
Marisa Taylor, one of the reporters who contributed to the McClatchy piece, was instrumental in breaking and reporting the US Attorney firing scandal.
Excepts from the article follow:
Congress changed the law in 1993 to allow most government employees to accept political leadership positions, work on political campaigns and raise money for political causes. Under President Clinton, many federal employees were members of liberal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
But some former and current Justice Department officials said such overt involvement in partisan political organizations by lawyers in sensitive government jobs was a troubling sign that partisan politics might be inappropriately seeping into the government bureaucracy in the Bush administration.
"I can't imagine Justice Department employees advertising their membership in a political organization in my day," said Stanley Hunterton, a former federal prosecutor of 12 years who investigated organized crime in Detroit and Las Vegas before he left the department in 1985 during the Reagan administration. "We didn't even talk about politics, let alone identify ourselves as willing to work on behalf of a political party."
"This takes it to a whole new level," agreed a former high-ranking Justice Department official who worked as a political appointee under Republican and Democratic administrations, and who asked not to be identified because he didn't want to antagonize the current administration. "Most of us had the sense to recognize that you had to be careful because you don't want to create an appearance problem."
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