Report reveals new details about how politics affected hiring at the Justice Department.

Report reveals new details about how politics affected hiring at the Justice Department.

Report reveals new details about how politics affected hiring at the Justice Department.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 29 2008 6:22 AM

All in the Family

The New York Timesand the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead, while the Washington Postgoes across its front page, with an internal Justice Department report that details how department aides broke civil service laws by taking politics into account in hiring decisions. Close aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asked inappropriate questions at interviews for nonpolitical jobs and frequently hired those who were vocal about their conservative and Christian views, even when they were less qualified for the job. The aides also carried out Internet searches to identify conservatives and screen out applicants whose views were seen as too liberal.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that plans are currently in the works to move a unit of Pakistan's army into the country's tribal regions. The United States has long advocated such a move because Pakistan's Frontier Corps, currently assigned to guarding the largely lawless region, is ineffective. USA Todayleads with a new poll taken over the weekend that shows a tightening presidential race. Among registered voters, Barack Obama's lead over John McCain decreased a few points as registered voters preferred the Democrat 47 percent to 44 percent. Among likely voters, McCain comes out ahead 49 percent to 45 percent, although both cases are within the margin of error. Perhaps most worrying for Obama is that 41 percent of respondents said they don't think he has what it takes to be commander in chief, which is at the same levels as last month.

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The revelation that the hiring process at the Justice Department was politicized under Gonzales is hardly new. But the report gives more details about how pervasive the problem was and how it affected some of the department's most important positions. For example, everyone mentions the case of an experienced prosecutor who was denied an important counterterrorism job because of his wife's activism in Democratic politics. The report noted that the inappropriate use of politics in hiring decisions was most widespread in hiring immigration judges. The LAT also fronts the report out of Justice and focuses on how it hints that one of the U.S. attorneys who was fired in 2006 may have been dismissed because of rumors that she was having a sexual relationship with a female career prosecutor.

The WP focuses on Monica Goodling, who came under the heaviest criticism in the report for implementing what one senior official described as a "farm system" that was designed to increase the number of Republicans in the department. Democratic lawmakers suggested they would look into whether they could charge Goodling and others with perjury for failing to fully disclose the extent of the practice when they testified before Congress. Realistically, no one expects much to happen, particularly since most of those named in the report are no longer at the department. As many as 40 immigration judges were recruited because of their political views, and they're likely to remain on the job.

In the Post's op-ed page, a former deputy attorney general wonders: "Where were the career people on whom we count to keep the department honest?" Jamie Gorelick notes that the report details how several senior officials at the Justice Department had enough information to know that there was something strange going on but failed to say anything. Besides making sure this never happens again, the department "needs to hold individuals responsible for their actions" and "offer opportunities to those who were improperly denied them."

Even as U.S. officials praised Pakistan's plans to move a regular army unit into the country's tribal areas, they still question how much good it could do if the government continues to be unwilling to recognize the extent of the problem. The unit itself will likely run into trouble because, according to U.S. officials, it has been trained to carry out conventional war and not counterinsurgency operations. It's also unclear whether the unit would be able to do much good in an area that has long resisted military involvement. But some think there might be an opening for progress because there are hints that extremists might have alienated some tribes by betraying or killing tribal leaders.

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The WP devotes its traditional lead spot to, and the NYT fronts, the violence that shook Iraq yesterday as four female bombers (the NYT says three were suicide bombers and another left a bomb in a bag and walked away) and the subsequent chaos killed at least 61 people. It marked yet another example of how women are increasingly carrying out attacks because they can evade security checkpoints more easily, and it was a reminder of how fragile the situation continues to be in Iraq. One of the bombers blew herself up in the middle of a political demonstration in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. As the NYT recounts in detail, many blamed Turkmen extremists for the attack and angry Kurds quickly began to attack Turkmen offices and confront guards who then shot into the crowds. The Baghdad bombers carried out what appeared to be a coordinated attack against Shiite pilgrims.

The LAT and WSJ front looks at how Beijing continues to be shrouded in a gray haze despite recent efforts to curb pollution that have forced hundreds of thousands of residents to change their daily routines. Now the government is considering implementing even tougher measures that could lead to more factory closings, and officials might ban as many as 90 percent of private cars from the streets. If China fails to improve the situation, many athletes are likely to wear masks while in Beijing, which would be extremely embarrassing for the Communist government. The WSJ notes that many are looking to the efforts as a learning experience about what can be done to decrease pollution. Experts say that if an authoritarian government that can order businesses around more easily than most other countries can't control the problem then it's unlikely that other industrialized nations could have much success in reducing pollution.

In other Olympics-related news, the NYT takes a look at how the Chinese government is so determined to show the world a sanitized picture of Beijing that it has put up walls and screens around some of the city's more unsightly buildings and blocks.

The WP says Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine appears to be on the vice presidential shortlist. Kaine has apparently told "close associates" that he's had "very serious" conversations with Obama. Sens. Evan Bayh and Joseph Biden are also under serious consideration. Besides Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, most of the others being considered are senators with lots of foreign-policy experience. Kaine seems to fulfill many of the characteristics Obama is looking for in a running mate, but he has no foreign policy experience and is a first-term governor. To the shock of no one, the NYT notes that Sen. Hillary Clinton doesn't appear to be a contender for the job.

The LAT fronts a look at how fire commanders are often pressured to deploy military planes to drop water and retardant to fight a wildfire even if they won't do any good. Firefighters call them "CNN drops" because they're often launched because of pressure from politicians who want to demonstrate that everything is being done to put out a wildfire. No one doubts that aircraft can play an important role in putting out a fire, but the increasing, and often unnecessary, use of air power is one of the reasons why the cost of fighting wildfires has skyrocketed in recent years.

In an interesting piece on the first trial of a Guantanamo detainee, the NYT notes that while the proceedings might look like they could take place in the United States, the truth is that things are far from normal. FBI agents have testified about how they didn't inform Osama Bin Laden's former driver, Salim Hamdan, about his constitutional rights, and a psychiatrist has said that the isolation and repeated interrogations have so warped Hamdan's sense of reality that he sometimes thinks the trial itself is another method of interrogation. The whole process sometimes takes on a surreal nature. At one point, a prosecution witness showed a chart of al-Qaida's leadership that includes Hamdan far below the supposed leader, who was released from Guantanamo in 2004. Plus there's the small fact that the administration has made it clear that even if Hamdan is acquitted, he could still face indefinite detention. "Where else in the world," an ACLU lawyer said, "is someone being prosecuted for a crime who is already serving a life sentence and will continue to serve one if he's acquitted?"

One would like to think that when voters weigh in on whether their state's constitution should be amended, they've thought about the issue and have a clear point of view. But those who are campaigning for and against the proposition that would amend California's constitution are betting that how the ballot measure is worded can change votes, notes the LAT. Supporters of the proposition are up in arms because the attorney general's office changed the language on the ballot to say that it would "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry" instead of stating that the amendment seeks "to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Political analysts say people are less likely to vote for something that is seen as taking away existing rights.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.