Two whistle-blowers claim a Justice Department official improperly promoted an employee in the final days of Trump’s term.
This article features our Senior Counsel David Seide and was originally published here.
Two whistle-blowers on Wednesday accused Jeffrey Bossert Clark, a former Justice Department official, of politicizing the hiring process in the waning days of President Donald J. Trump’s tenure by improperly elevating an employee who was seen as loyal to the former president.
Mr. Clark, who headed the Environment and Natural Resources Division and was acting head of the department’s Civil Division, promoted an employee days before he left the department in January. The employee had previously worked on a case, Garza v. Hargan, that involved the Trump administration’s effort to bar pregnant teens who were in federal immigration custody from obtaining abortions, the whistle-blowers said in a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general and to members of Congress.
Few career employees at the department had been willing to work on the case, according to the whistle-blowers’ letter. And the policy was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge.
On Jan. 12, Mr. Clark announced that the person who had worked on the Garza case had been hired to be an assistant director over two candidates who were more qualified, the whistle-blowers said in their letter.
The whistle-blowers’ letter was earlier reported by NPR.
The whistle-blowers claimed that the Civil Division changed its longstanding practices around hiring for that type of position in order to allow a political appointee to select the finalists. They said that Mr. Clark then engaged in “perfunctory” 15-minute interviews with each of the candidates before choosing “the one and only candidate who volunteered to defend one of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies.”
“Mr. Clark abused his authority by injecting himself into the career staff promotion process,” the whistle-blowers said in their letter. They called the hiring process “a sham selection process.”
Mr. Clark said in a statement that managers in the Civil Division sent him three candidates to interview, “each of whom they rated well-qualified.”
“I interviewed all three using the same process I had used for other positions,” Mr. Clark said. “I think it’s very unfortunate that the disappointed applicants would attack their own colleague’s selection. That candidate had strong leadership qualities and was the best qualified.”
Mr. Clark described the decision by the whistle-blowers to highlight that the lawyer who was promoted had worked on the Garza litigation as “a baseless attempt to cast aspersions.”
David Z. Seide, a lawyer for the whistle-blowers and a senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project, said in a statement that Mr. Clark’s “last-minute politicization of the D.O.J. hiring process” called for “immediate, close and transparent oversight and investigations.”
Mr. Clark made headlines in January for his efforts to help Mr. Trump overturn the results of the election, a plan that nearly led to the ouster of the acting attorney general and a mass resignation at the top of the agency.
Mr. Clark denied any wrongdoing and said that the discussions reported by The New York Times had been distorted by colleagues who had improperly shared them. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating the incident.