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Report: Justice Department hiring based on politics

WASHINGTON Ivy Leaguers and other top law students were rejected for plum Justice Department jobs two years ago because of their liberal leanings or objections to Bush administration politics, a government report concluded Tuesday.

In one case, a Harvard Law student was passed over after criticizing the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. In another, a Georgetown University student who had worked for a Democratic senator and congressman didn’t make the cut.

Even senior Justice Department officials flinched at what appeared to be hiring decisions based — improperly and illegally — on politics, according to the internal report.

“Individuals at the department were rejecting any of our candidates who could be construed as left-wing or who were perceived, based on their appearances and resumés and so forth, as being more liberal,” Kevin Ohlson, deputy director of the department’s executive office of immigration review, complained to Justice investigators.

The report marked the culmination of a yearlong investigation by Justice’s inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility into whether Republican politics were driving hiring polices at the once fiercely independent department.

The investigation is one of several that examine accusations of White House political meddling within the Justice Department. Those accusations were initially driven by the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in late 2006 and culminated with the ouster of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general in September.

The report issued Tuesday concluded that politics and ideology disqualified a significant number of newly graduated lawyers and summer interns seeking coveted Justice Department jobs in 2006.

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine singled out Michael Elston, the former chief of staff to former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and Esther McDonald, a former department lawyer, as violating anti-discrimination and hiring laws by cutting applicants who were left-leaning, including several who had received good grades from top law schools.

While Fine said he wasn’t able to prove that officials intentionally singled out applicants, he said his investigators had found enough of a pattern to indicate that political or ideological affiliations were considered in 2002 and 2006.

In a statement Tuesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he’d be following Fine’s recommendations for improving the selection process, and that the department had begun to make changes last year.

The report:

This report includes material from The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers