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Law | Politics
Indian Country advocate hindered by top DOJ aides

A well-respected federal prosecutor was blocked from working on Indian issues because Department of Justice political appointees believed she was lesbian, according to an investigation released on Monday.

Leslie Hagen was as assistant U.S. Attorney in Western Michigan assigned to violent crimes in Indian Country. She worked on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases affecting 11 tribes in the state.

Hagen ended up on a detail to a higher-level office to work on national Indian issues as part of the Native American Issues Subcommittee at DOJ. She won an "outstanding" rating on her performance reviews, the highest possible appraisal.

But Monica Goodling, an aide to former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, prevented Hagen from extending her work for "political" reasons, the investigation said. The reason was Hagen's alleged sexual orientation as well an unsubstantiated relationship with former U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara of Western Michigan.

"Goodling opposed the detail extension because Goodling had problems with the AUSA's alleged sexual orientation," the director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) told DOJ investigators.

When she was denied the extension, Hagen sought to work on issues affecting sex offenders and domestic violence, both important in Indian Country. But Goodling again prevented Hagen from securing the details, investigators said.

"We concluded that Goodling's actions violated department policy and federal law, and constituted misconduct," the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General said in the lengthy report.

Despite Goodling's opposition, Hagen has continued to work on Indian issues through a contract at DOJ. At a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on July 17, Robert Moore, a council member for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and Jackie Johnson Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, praised Hagen for helping tribes address the Adam Walsh Act, a controversial jurisdiction law.

Hagen "has been such a great value to the tribes," Moore told the committee.

This isn't the first time Goodling has been under scrutiny. In May 2007, she told a House committee that former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger of Minnesota was targeted for firing because he spent too much time on Indian Country as chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee at DOJ.

Heffelfinger resigned before the Bush administration fired eight U.S. Attorneys -- five of whom were prominent Indian advocates. Included was Chiara, who succeeded Heffelfinger as chair of the subcommittee.

A second Gonzales aide, Kyle Sampson, also broke the law, the report concluded. Prior to working at DOJ, Sampson served in the White House, where he played a role in the firing of former Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, who told Congress that an historical accounting of the Indian trust was impossible.

Gonzales ended up resigning due to controversy over the firings of the federal prosecutors. He was due to meet with NCAI on the day he left office.

"I am of course disturbed by their findings that improper political considerations were used in hiring decisions relating to some career employees," said U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey in a statement. "I have said many times, both to members of the public and to Department employees, it is neither permissible nor acceptable to consider political affiliations in the hiring of career department employees."

DOJ Report:
An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General (July 28, 2008)

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