The Justice Department said on Wednesday it will investigate whether its hiring practices were improperly tainted by politics after a former aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitted posing political questions to job applicants.
The department told the Senate Judiciary Committee of its decision a week after Monica Goodling, the former Gonzales aide, admitted to Congress that she had "crossed the line" and considered applicants' politics in deciding whether to give them career, nonpartisan positions.
In a letter to the Judiciary Committee, the heads of two Justice Department offices said they had expanded an ongoing investigation to look into whether Goodling and others used political considerations in making hiring and personnel decisions.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman, welcomed the expanded probe. "These are serious revelations that reinforce the need for meaningful congressional oversight" of the Bush administration, the Vermont Democrat said.
"It is unacceptable that a senior Justice Department official was allowed to screen career employees and some judicial appointments for political loyalty, and it confirms our worst fears about the unprecedented and improper reach of politics into the department's professional ranks," he said.
Leahy's panel is helping lead a congressional investigation into whether politics played a role in Gonzales' firing last year of nine of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys. President George W. Bush and Gonzales have insisted the dismissals were justified.
But critics have charged that at least some of the firings appear to have been motivated by a desire to influence criminal probes of Democratic or Republican lawmakers. They have suggested the White House may have been a driving force behind the firings.
Gonzales, who has rejected bipartisan calls for his resignation, had earlier ordered the department's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the firings.
The two offices later said they also were examining whether Goodling considered politics in hiring for career posts, such as assistant U.S. attorneys. That would violate federal law.
In their letter to the Judiciary Committee, the heads of the two offices said they had "expanded the scope of our investigation" regarding political considerations in the hiring and personnel decisions by Goodling and others.
They said they also would investigate allegations that politics played an improper role in the hiring for the department's Honors and Summer Law Intern programs and at its civil rights division.