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An internal US Department of Justice order disclosed Monday by the National Journal gave two top aides to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wide discretion to fire and hire political appointees within the Department who were not subject to Senate confirmation. The memo, dated March 2006, authorized then-Gonzales chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson and Gonzales's White House liaison, a post later filled by Monica Goodling, "to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration" of almost all non-civil service DOJ employees. Sampson  and Goodling both resigned earlier this year in the midst of controversy over their roles in the firings of eight US Attorneys for allegedly political reasons.

An early version of the March order had authorized the officials to act without even having to consult the Attorney General, but the wording of the instrument was later revised at the urging of the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel, which was concerned about the constitutionality of such broad-brush delegation of power. An unnamed "senior executive branch official" quoted by the National Journal said of the order that it was "an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on." Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed similar concern over the root strategy apparently reflected in the order, saying in a statement Monday:

This development is highly troubling in what it seems to reveal about White House politicization of key appointees in the Department of Justice. The mass firing of U.S. attorneys appeared to be part of a systematic scheme to inject political influence into the hiring and firing decisions of key justice employees. This secret order would seem to be evidence of an effort to hardwire control over law enforcement by White House political operatives.

Leahy called for the order and its supporting materials to be formally turned over to the Senate and House Judiciary committees looking into the US Attorney firings.


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