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Civil Rights Attorney Testifes About Partisan Politics

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Career attorneys at the Justice Department's civil rights division have complained for the last few years that their work has been infused with partisan politics. Many of those complaints have focused on one man at the department. And yesterday he testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: It was a lonely hearing for Brad Schlozman. Not a single Republican senator attended, so nobody was there to defend him against digs like this one from Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): I think you're trying to break Attorney General Gonzales' record of saying you don't recall, you don't remember.

SHAPIRO: Schlozman was at the hearing for two reasons: he's repeatedly been accused of politicizing the Justice Department's Civil Rights division and he replaced the U.S. attorney who was fired in Missouri, bringing a couple of politically controversial voter fraud cases just before the close 2006 election there.

Yesterday, Schlozman admitted that while he was at the civil rights division...

Mr. BRAD SCHLOZMAN (Former U.S. Attorney, Western District of Missouri): I did encourage individuals to - on a couple of occasions - to take political background which was irrelevant to the hiring decision for a career position and did not include that in the resume that they submitted for a career position.

SHAPIRO: Schlozman said membership in conservative groups like the Federalist Society was nothing to hide; those credentials were just irrelevant for career positions that were supposed to be apolitical. In that case, New York Senator Charles Schumer asked...

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Did you ever boast to anyone that you hired a certain number of Republicans or conservatives for any division or section of the Justice Department?

SHAPIRO: Schlozman first replied that he may have bragged about hiring people who were more professional. When Schumer told him the question was not about professionals, but conservatives, Schlozman said...

Mr. SCHLOZMAN: I probably have made statements like that. And...

Sen. SCHUMER: Thank you. Okay, why did you do it if you just said a few minutes ago that it wasn't relevant to have that on their resumes because it wasn't political?

Mr. SCHLOZMAN: These individuals, Senator, were not hired because they were Republican.

Sen. SCHUMER: I didn't ask that. If you said it was irrelevant at one point, now you're boasting to people that, well, we hired Republicans, is there a contradiction there?

SHAPIRO: Schlozman said no. Many former Justice Department employees, including prominent Republicans, have said they fear that if the ranks of career attorneys become politicized, the Justice Department risks losing its long-term reputation for being above politics.

At yesterday's hearing, senators accused Schlozman of carrying partisan motivations with him to Missouri, where he served as U.S. attorney for a year. In particular, senators focused on a case Schlozman brought against liberal voting rights activists one week before the heated 2006 election. That appears to contradict a Justice Department manual that says most if not all investigation of an alleged election crime must await the end of the election.

Republican Todd Graves, Schlozman's predecessor as U.S. attorney, told the committee that when he saw the charges announced...

Mr. TODD GRAVES (Former U.S. Attorney): It surprised me. It surprised me that they'd been filed that close to an election.

SHAPIRO: Schlozman insisted that there was nothing wrong with the timing. In fact, he testified that officials at the Justice Department's public integrity section in Washington signed off on it. Senator Leahy asked...

Sen. LEAHY: Would it have affected your ability to bring the prosecution if you had just waited a few weeks till the election was over?

Mr. SCHLOZMAN: The Department of Justice does not time prosecutions to elections.

Sen. LEAHY: Well, yes they do. That's what the manual says.

SHAPIRO: Schlozman insisted that in his opinion the indictment of liberal voter activists the week before an election would have no impact on the election itself. That prompted another senator to pull out a Missouri Republican Party press release that was issued soon after the indictment was announced. The release said the indictment, quote, "raises serious questions about the Democratic Party."

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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