11.24.08

Leahy, Conyers Press Mukasey For Details Of Gonzales Legal Fees

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Michael Mukasey urging him to disclose the details of a Department of Justice agreement to pay a private attorney to represent former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in connection with his involvement in the politicized hiring practices of the Justice Department during his tenure from 2005 to 2007.

 

A report released in June by the Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Gonzales and others in the Department engaged in improper hiring practices that “constituted misconduct and also violated the Department’s polices and civil service law.”  Recent press reports reveal that the Department of Justice has decided to pay up to $24,000 a month for private counsel to represent Gonzales in lawsuits filed by individuals whose applications for employment at the Department were turned down while Gonzales was serving as Attorney General.

 

Leahy and Conyers pressed Mukasey to publicly disclose the specifics of the agreement, including how the decision to pay Gonzales’s private legal expenses was made, by whom, and whether the Department has decided to pay the legal fees for other current or former Department officials in connection with the hiring scandal.

 

Since January 2007, Leahy and Conyers have led congressional investigations into politicized hiring practices at the Department.  The investigations led to the resignation of the senior leadership of the Justice Department, including Gonzales, and several senior White House officials.  On November 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee filed a report detailing its investigation.  The report accompanied resolutions of contempt for former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, who have refused to cooperate with the investigations.  On February 14, the House of Representatives voted to hold Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress, and subsequently filed suit in federal court for their failure to cooperate.

 

The text of the Leahy-Conyers letter to Mukasey follows.  A PDF is available online.

 

November 24, 2008

 

The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey

Attorney General of the United States

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20530

 

Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

 
We write to follow up on reports that the Department will be covering legal expenses for former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in connection with findings of politicized hiring for the Department of Justice Honor Program and Summer Law Intern Program.  Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine released a report this past June which concluded that hiring was improperly politicized, including in 2006 when, the report concluded, several Department officials engaged in hiring practices that “constituted misconduct and also violated the Department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations.”

 

Following the publication of the Inspector General’s report, several individuals whose applications for employment through these programs were turned down during the period that the hiring process was improperly politicized have filed suit against Mr. Gonzales and others who held senior positions at the Department at the time.  Recent press accounts indicated that the Department of Justice has decided to pay up to $24,000 a month for a private attorney to represent Mr. Gonzales in connection with this lawsuit.  As far as we can tell, the Department has thus far failed to confirm or publicly account for any aspect of this arrangement.

Under section 50.16 of title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Department may provide for a private attorney for a current or former employee sued individually for conduct within the scope of his employment, but the Government should not pay for private representation if the Attorney General or his designee “determines that the employee’s actions do not reasonably appear to have been performed within the scope of his employment” or that “representation is not in the interest of the United States.”

There is precedent for disclosure of information to Congress about this type of arrangement.  In May 2003, for example, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the release of similar information regarding fees paid by the Department of the Interior to private attorneys to defend its employees in a class action lawsuit. Judge Lamberth wrote that “the Court believes that Congress should have all available information at its disposal” in order to inform the process of appropriating funds for court-appointed officials and attorneys’ fees in the case.

 

We would appreciate your responses to these questions on this issue:

1. What is the arrangement the Department has reached with Mr. Gonzales in connection with representation in this matter, and why has that arrangement not been made public?

2. Who made the decision to pay for Mr. Gonzales’s private legal expenses in connection with the politicization of hiring at the Justice Department, and how, when, and on what basis was the decision made?  Please include with your response any standing guidelines governing the procedures for retention and payment for private counsel for individual employees or former employees.

3. For what other current or former Department officials has the Department decided to pay legal expenses in connection with these matters? 

4. Given the Inspector General’s findings of violations of Department policy and Federal law in connection with the politicization of Department hiring, on what basis did the Department determine that the conduct at issue in this lawsuit was within the scope of Mr. Gonzales’s employment and that his representation is in the interest of the United States?

We look forward to your responses to these questions.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,  

 

PATRICK LEAHY                                         JOHN CONYERS, JR.

Chairman, U.S. Senate,                                 Chairman, U.S. House of Representatives,

Committee on the Judiciary                            Committee on the Judiciary

 

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