updated 5/2/2007 3:41:22 PM ET 2007-05-02T19:41:22

The Justice Department is investigating whether its former White House liaison used political affiliation in deciding who to hire as entry-level prosecutors in U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country, The Associated Press has learned.

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Doing so is a violation of federal law.

The inquiry involving Monica Goodling, the former counsel and White House liaison for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, raises new concerns that politics might have cast a shadow over the independence of trial prosecutors who enforce U.S. laws.

Justice spokesman Dean Boyd confirmed Wednesday that the department’s inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility were investigating Goodling’s role in hiring career attorneys — an unusual responsibility for her to take.

Goodling “may have taken prohibited considerations into account during such review,” Boyd told the AP. “Whether or not the allegation is true is currently the subject of the OIG/OPR investigation.”

Goodling quit the Justice Department last month after refusing to testify to Congress about her role in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year, which Democrats say might have been politically motivated.

The House Judiciary Committee has voted to give Goodling immunity for her testimony — an offer that is being reviewed by the Justice Department to make sure it does not interfere with any ongoing criminal investigations.

Her attorney, John Dowd, did not immediately return two requests for comment Wednesday.

Goodling and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ former chief of staff, also had authority to hire or fire about 135 politically appointed Justice Department employees who did not require Senate confirmation.

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