Department of Justice

Looking Back: The Ordeal Of Sarah Taylor

Bloggers have pointed out the significance of the Sarah Taylor ordeal in the wake of last Monday's report detailing the wrongdoings of Monica Goodling. Sarah Taylor was second in command to Karl Rove at the White House Political office from 2001-2007. Here are are few recaps of a woman who handled herself even more poorly than Goodling did (albeit it could be argued that Goodling purjured herself in her testimony).

The Sarah Taylor appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 11th of last year was significant because her claim to executive privilege was undercut by her testimony. First, she claimed that she couldn't answer most questions because she was covered by the President's claim of executive priviledge. But as the hearing went on, with her lawyer present, she went against the claim and answered a few selective questions. Every now and then, she opened a window for the senators to look through, and they only had more questions (and they do to this day).

Damozel: The Ordeal Of Sarah Taylor

Here, Senator Patrick Leahy corrects Ms. Taylor about the oath she took when she joined the White House staff:

Her testimony under questioning from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse proved to be most interesting. Here, Whitehouse almost nails her for admitting to violations of the Hatch Act (discussing campaign or party strategy in Federal offices):

Keep in mind that this is someone who was involved in sending and receiving e-mails using her RNC e-mail account, outside the White House servers, and thus outside the review of Congress:

Dana Milbank:

Contemptuous of Congress or not, the witness's most obvious sentiment was her fondness for bottled water. She bounded into the hearing room and, ignoring the glass and coaster in front of her, unscrewed the Deer Park bottle, licked her lips and drank. She took seven more such sips during Leahy's opening statement. When he said she "was among the staffers who played a key role in these firings," she licked her lips and sipped. "What role did Ms. Taylor and others in Karl Rove's White House political office play?" Sip. "It's apparent that this White House is contemptuous of the Congress." Sip.

Dahlia Lithwick: Sara Taylor plays the Senate judiciary committee like a harp

Monica Goodling: Where She Is Now And Where She Should Be

Where she is now: Married to Mike Krempasky, founder of the right-wing blog, Redstate.

Where she should be: In a Federal courtroom, on trail for violating Federal hiring laws, violations of the Hatch Act, and for obstructing justice. Andrew Cohen of CBS news agrees.

Damozel at The Moderate Voice saw the same Sadly, No! post I saw on Monday, and she created this most excellent post.

"That damned spotted owl. It haunts us to this day."

Thanks to Sadly, No! and their commentator, J--, for pointing this out.

The Office of Professional Conduct (OPC) has published its final report on the interviewing techniques of Monica Goodling during her tenure at the US Department of Justice.

It is worth a read because it is full of scathing evidence and a conclusion that cannot possibly be misread:

[Page 125] The evidence demonstrated that Goodling violated Department policy and federal law, and committed misconduct, by considering political or ideological affiliations in the appointment of IJs and BIA members. Goodling admitted in her congressional testimony that she “took political considerations into account” in IJ and BIA hiring. She stated that Sampson had told her that IJ hiring was not subject to civil service laws, and that she “assumed” those laws did not apply to BIA member hiring. The evidence showed that she used political considerations in assessing candidates for both IJ and BIA positions.

That's an important distinction. It means that Monica Goodling asked the same political screening questions of both political appointees (which is legal) and DOJ candidates for employment (which is not). Many of the candidates for career positions screened by Goodling included IJ applicants - Immigration Judges. Ms. Goodling was not a decision maker in the hiring process. But she was a key interviewer, and made recommendations on who to hire and who to reject. You might think that the political screening questions would be subtle. But thankfully, they were quite blunt. Take a look at this key excerpt from pages 17-19 (emphasis mine):

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.

I. Interview Questions

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. 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.

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. 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.

    And how did Goodling research candidates and filter out the suspected liberals from the 'good Bushies'? She used the most powerful media search tool on the planet - Lexis/Nexis. Any candidate who went near specific topics in print or online news media would presumably be disqualified. Another key excerpt:

    We found that Goodling’s Internet research on candidates for Department positions was extensive and designed to obtain their political and ideological affiliations. 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 email 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.”

    The Spotted Owl. The damned Spotted Owl. It haunts us to this day. Those Bushies know what we like. There is no escape from the Goodling Lexis/Nexis search string.