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National Journal's Murray Waas got his hands on an intriguing DoJ document, and he has an article that opens up a whole lot of questions that I would love to see answered.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides — who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys — extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department. A copy of the order and other Justice Department records related to the conception and implementation of the order were provided to National Journal.

In the order, Gonzales delegated to his then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and his White House liaison "the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration" of virtually all non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department, including all of the department's political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Monica Goodling became White House liaison in April 2006, the month after Gonzales signed the order.

The existence of the order suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level. Department records show that the personnel authority was delegated to the two aides at about the same time they were working with the White House in planning the firings of a dozen U.S. attorneys, eight of whom were, in fact, later dismissed.

A senior executive branch official familiar with the delegation of authority said in an interview that — as was the case with the firings of the U.S. attorneys and the selection of their replacements — the two aides intended to work closely with White House political aides and the White House counsel's office in deciding which senior Justice Department officials to dismiss and whom to appoint to their posts. "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," the official said.

So, the head of the Department of Justice signed decision-making power for some very important personnel decisions over to two junior political operative minions at the DoJ, who just happened to be working closely with folks at Rove's White House political shop. Good to know. And also good to know that USAttys serve at the pleasure of the President pleasure of political minions who report directly to folks at Rove's White House political shop.

The Muck has more on this, including the catch that senior DoJ officials were cut out of the decision-making loop entirely by the AG's confidential order.  And Digby asks if this was such a standard practice, as some in the Bush Administration has claimed, why issue a confidential order to establish it?  I would ask further, if there is nothing to see here, why wasn't this document and other supporting material turned over to Congress in the last three docudumps?  If there is nothing to hide, why are they trying to hide it?  ThinkProgress says that Sen. Leahy is not pleased.

What was the impetus for all of this in the first place?  Well, you do the math.  Is it me, or was Rove keeping AG Gonzales on an awfully tight leash?

Happy Law Day, gang.  (H/T to Sonoma Rus.)  Isn't it time that the Bush Administration started actually recognizing the rule of law instead of the Rule of Karl?

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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