An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General

Special Report
July 2008
Office of the Inspector General

Chapter Three
Goodling’s Role in Department Hiring

During Goodling’s tenure in the Office of Public Affairs, EOUSA, and in the OAG before she became White House Liaison, her primary responsibilities did not include hiring personnel.11 When she was in EOUSA, she was involved in the approval of waiver requests from interim U.S. Attorneys to hire AUSAs, and we investigated her actions in that role. However, the bulk of Goodling’s hiring activities for the Department occurred after she became the Department’s White House Liaison, and most of the allegedly improper hiring practices occurred during her time in that position. We discuss in this chapter Goodling’s methods for screening candidates for their political or ideological affiliations.

As White House Liaison, Goodling’s primary responsibility was to screen candidates for political positions. Based on our witness interviews and review of documents, and the results of our survey, we found that most of the people Goodling screened or interviewed had applied for political positions. However, Goodling also assessed candidates for various types of career positions, including candidates for AUSA positions requested by interim U.S. Attorneys, career attorneys applying for details to Department offices, and candidates for IJ and BIA positions. We also found that Goodling interviewed many candidates who were interested in obtaining any position in the Department, whether career or political.

Our investigation demonstrated that Goodling sometimes used for career applicants the same political screening techniques she employed in considering applicants for political positions. In addition, she used for candidates who were interested in any position, whether career or political, the same political screening she used for applicants who applied solely for political positions, and some of these candidates were placed in career positions.

In the sections that follow, we describe the process Goodling used as White House Liaison to screen candidates for political positions within the Department. We note where applicable the evidence that she used similar techniques in assessing candidates for career positions.

As detailed in this chapter, Goodling used a variety of methods to screen candidates, including interview questions, Internet searches, employment forms, and reference checks.

  1. Interview Questions

  2. According to witnesses we interviewed and documents we reviewed, Goodling regularly asked interview questions designed to determine how politically conservative the candidates were. We interviewed Angela Williamson, who was the Department’s Deputy White House Liaison and reported to Goodling during most of Goodling’s tenure as White House Liaison.12 Williamson attended numerous interviews conducted by Goodling and told us that Goodling asked the same questions “all the time” and tried to ask the same questions of all candidates. Williamson said she became so familiar with the questions, Goodling occasionally allowed her to conduct portions of interviews or entire interviews on her own.13

    After Goodling resigned, Williamson typed from memory the list of questions Goodling asked as a guide for future interviews. Among other questions, the list included the following:

    Tell us about your political philosophy. There are different groups of conservatives, by way of example: Social Conservative, Fiscal Conservative, Law & Order Republican.

    [W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

    Aside from the President, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire.

    We found that this last question often took the form of asking the candidate to identify his or her most admired President, Supreme Court Justice, or legislator. Some candidates were asked to identify a person for all three categories. Williamson told us that sometimes Goodling asked candidates: “Why are you a Republican?”

    Several candidates interviewed by Goodling told us they believed that her question about identifying their favorite Supreme Court Justice, President, or legislator was an attempt to determine the candidates’ political beliefs. For example, one candidate reported that after he stated he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Goodling “frowned” and commented, “but she’s pro-choice.” Another candidate commented that when Goodling asked him to name his favorite judge, it seemed to him that she was trying to “get at my political views.”

    Williamson said that she and Goodling took notes during candidate interviews, which were maintained in folders for the candidates.14 We also found that many of Goodling’s and Williamson’s interview notes reflected that the topics of abortion and gay marriage were discussed during interviews. It appeared that these topics were discussed as a result of the question seeking information about how the applicant would characterize the type of conservative they were. We received information from our survey that 34 persons interviewed by Goodling or Williamson said they discussed abortion, and 21 said they discussed gay marriage.

    Some of Goodling’s interview questions elicited complaints from a senior Department official. Regina Schofield, former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, said she complained to OAG Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson about Goodling asking inappropriate questions of OJP candidates, such as questions about abortion. Schofield said she told Sampson that Goodling needed to be trained, and that Sampson seemed to agree with the suggestion. Sampson told us he did not have a specific recollection of Schofield calling him to complain about Goodling asking questions about abortion, but that he had some recollection about discussing interviewer training with Schofield. We found no evidence that Goodling received any such training or was instructed about the type of questions that should be asked in interviews as a result of Schofield’s complaint.

    The evidence also indicates that Goodling knew she should not ask applicants for career positions the same questions she asked of applicants for political positions. For example, an AUSA who interviewed with Goodling in September 2006 for a possible position in the ODAG said that Goodling told her there were two types of positions potentially available, political and non-political. Goodling told the candidate that if she was interested in a political position, she would ask her separate questions, which included questions about political activities and voting history.15

  3. Internet Research

  4. As noted above, prior to joining the Department Goodling worked for the Republican National Committee. According to her résumé, her duties there included “a broad range of political research.” When asked during her congressional testimony whether she used such skills in researching candidates at the Department, Goodling replied that she “certainly used Westlaw and Nex[i]s.”

    We found that Goodling’s Internet research on candidates for Department positions was extensive and designed to obtain their political and ideological affiliations.16 We determined that while working in the OAG, Goodling conducted computer searches on candidates for career as well as political Department positions. Goodling used an Internet search string in her hiring research that she had received from Jan Williams, her predecessor as the Department’s White House Liaison. At some time during the year Williams served as White House Liaison, she had attended a seminar at the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and received a document entitled “The Thorough Process of Investigation.” The document described methods for screening candidates for political positions and recommended using and to find information about contributions to political candidates and parties. The document also explained how to find voter registration information. In addition, the document explained how to conduct searches on, and included an example of a search string that contained political terms such as “republican,” “Bush or Cheney,” “Karl Rove,” “Howard Dean,” “democrat!,” “liberal,” “abortion or pro-choice,” as well as generic terms such as “arrest!” and “bankrupt!”

    When Williams left the Department in April 2006, she sent an e-mail to Goodling containing an Internet search string and explained: “This is the lexis nexis search string that I use for AG appointments.” The string reads as follows:

    [First name of a candidate]! and pre/2 [last name of a candidate] w/7 bush or gore or republican! or democrat! or charg! or accus! or criticiz! or blam! or defend! or iran contra or clinton or spotted owl or florida recount or sex! or controvers! or racis! or fraud! or investigat! or bankrupt! or layoff! or downsiz! or PNTR or NAFTA or outsourc! or indict! or enron or kerry or iraq or wmd! or arrest! or intox! or fired or sex! or racis! or intox! or slur! or arrest! or fired or controvers! or abortion! or gay! or homosexual! or gun! or firearm!

    In addition, Williams provided to Goodling the White House document described above entitled, “The Thorough Process of Investigation.”17

    We determined that Goodling conducted much of her Internet screening research herself, but on occasion she delegated the responsibility to her deputy, Angela Williamson. For a 2-week period in December 2006, Goodling was also assisted by a Schedule C political appointee hired in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison (OIPL), who was not an attorney at that time.18

    According to Goodling’s testimony to Congress, she did not document her research: “I didn’t really keep that kind of file. Normally, if I found something that was negative about someone, we didn’t hire them, and I wouldn’t have necessarily retained it.”

    We determined that Goodling’s Internet searches used the search terms that Williams provided, which focused on political criteria. Goodling kept the search string intact, but added terms when assessing candidates for certain positions, such as IJs, when she added the terms: “or immigrat! or immigrant! or asylum or DHS or ICE or border! or alien! or migrant! or criminal! or justice or judg!” We also found that this search string was included in an e-mail Goodling sent to the OIPL employee, dated December 5, 2006, in which Goodling instructed her to use the search string for all candidates she was asked to screen.

    In addition, Goodling admitted in her congressional testimony that she accessed and other web sites to get information about political contributions made by candidates for temporary details, immigration judges, and other positions.19

  5. Employment Forms

  6. Typically, people who wanted to be considered for political positions within the Bush administration had to complete a form entitled “PPO Non-Career Appointment Form” (PPO is the acronym for “Presidential Personnel Office”). The form required applicants to identify their political party affiliation, their voting address for 2000 and 2004, their involvement in the Bush/Cheney campaigns of 2000 and 2004, and a point of contact to verify their involvement in the campaigns. The form also stated that each applicant had to submit a “political and personal resume” before “White House clearance” could begin.

    As the Department’s White House Liaisons, Goodling and her predecessors used the Non-Career PPO form to gather information about candidates for political positions within the Department. We found that it was a standard practice for Goodling, Williamson, or their secretary to have applicants complete a Non-Career PPO form prior to interviewing them.

    However, during the course of our investigation we found many instances in which candidates for career positions such as attorney details, IJ positions, and BIA members were asked to complete PPO forms before they interviewed with Goodling. Several witnesses told us that when they objected to completing the form prior to interviewing for a career position, Goodling responded that they were given the PPO form by mistake. This response shows that Goodling was aware that it was improper for career candidates to complete a political form. However, we describe later in this report the evidence that Goodling used the information on completed PPO forms to reject candidates for career positions.

  7. Reference Checks

  8. Goodling admitted in her congressional testimony that there “were times I crossed the line probably in my reference calls” by asking political questions. She did not clarify whether she conducted reference checks of candidates for career positions, and, if so, whether she asked political questions during the checks. Goodling’s files contain few notes from any reference checks she conducted.

  1. We found no evidence that Goodling was involved in hiring during her tenure in the Office of Public Affairs.

  2. Williamson, who was not an attorney, joined the OAG in July 2006 and remained there after Goodling resigned. Williamson graduated from the College of the Ozarks in 2000 and had worked as an intern at the White House before joining the Department as a press assistant in May 2004. She moved to the Office of First Lady Laura Bush in September 2005, and joined the OAG in July 2006.

  3. Our review of Goodling’s handwritten interview notes confirmed that she asked similar questions of many candidates. Those notes suggest that Goodling asked candidates either all or a subset of her standard questions, although the notes do not show that every candidate was asked exactly the same questions.

  4. Goodling and Williamson maintained candidates’ résumés and supporting materials in manila folders. We examined hundreds of such folders. Goodling’s interview notes were usually contained on the inside flap of the folder or on separate pieces of paper that were inserted into the folder.

  5. We also note that Goodling was asked in her congressional testimony whether she “may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions.” Goodling agreed that she had done so. Goodling was not asked at the hearing what questions she posed that were political in nature.

  6. It does not violate federal law or Department policy to search for and consider political information concerning candidates for political positions. However, Goodling also conducted such searches, and considered the results of those searches, for candidates for career positions, including IJs and career candidates for temporary details.

  7. We found the document in Goodling’s records after she left the Department. The cover page had a message (“I know you know this stuff – but it may be helpful”) in handwriting that Williams acknowledged to us “could be” hers.

  8. Goodling interviewed this employee when she applied to the Department for a job. According to the employee, her résumé had been forwarded to the Department by the Republican National Committee.

  9. Goodling stated during her congressional testimony that she did not believe Attorney General Gonzales knew that she was asking political questions of candidates for career positions. When we interviewed him, Gonzales stated that he was not aware at the time that Goodling used political factors in assessing candidates for career positions, was not aware of the search terms Goodling used in her background research, and was not even aware that Goodling’s portfolio in the OAG included the hiring of immigration judges. When we asked Sampson whether he was aware of Williams and Goodling using the computer search terms detailed above to research candidates, he replied: “Not that I remember.”

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