Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said for the first time that "I am disappointed that I didn't do things differently" to stop the politicization of the system of hiring career Justice Department attorneys through its honors program during his time in office.
"Obviously everyone is smarter in hindsight. In hindsight you wish you would do some things differently and ... I feel disappointment in myself," Gonzales said, according to filings this week in a pending suit filed on behalf of applicants who were rejected for the program for political or ideological reasons. “I, the attorney general, am ultimately responsible," Gonzales also said.
Gonzales' statements came during a deposition he gave last September in the case of Gerlich v. Department of Justice, now pending before Judge John Bates in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Eight applicants were plaintiffs in the suit filed in 2008, but only three remain. Bates has scheduled a hearing for October on motions by both sides for summary judgment.
“I think everyone in the room realized that, in his own limited way, he was at last being apologetic for what had or had not taken place in this regard," said plaintiffs' lawyer Daniel Metcalfe, who conducted the deposition in Lubbock, Texas. Gonzales is teaching at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Metcalfe is a former Justice Department official now teaching at American University Washington College of Law.
Gonzales served as the nation's top law enforcement official from 2005 to 2007. Internal investigations of the honors and summer intern programs that were made public in 2008 found that Department officials did Internet searches to investigate the applicants' political and ideological affiliations, added that information to applicants' files, and used it to "deselect" some of those who would otherwise have been interviewed and hired. One candidate was nixed because he had run for office as a Green Party candidate.
The suit as it now stands is based mainly on the Privacy Act, which bars the government from maintaining records about individuals' exercise of First Amendment rights unless authorized by law. In September 2009, Bates dismissed other claims of constitutional violations directed at the Justice Department officials personally.The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for the Privacy Act violations totalling around $250,000, based on the lower salaries they are now earning because they were not hired at Justice.