Is the Fix In at Justice?
Appointing Robin Ashton to oversee ethical standards is like choosing a fox to guard the henhouse.


Hans A. von Spakovsky

Announce bad news on a Friday afternoon, the rule in official Washington goes. Attorney General Eric Holder seems to have a new corollary: Make bad appointments over holiday breaks.

It works. Holder’s announcement on Christmas Eve that he was appointing Robin Ashton as the new head of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) went virtually unnoticed in the press, other than a highly complimentary article in the Washington Post.

That’s unfortunate, considering how important this position is. OPR investigates ethics violations by Justice Department lawyers. It should be headed by someone who does not place partisanship above the law, and who has the highest ethical standards and a sterling reputation. Robin Ashton does not fit that bill. Indeed, Ashton’s antics at DOJ have often been so petty and juvenile that she should be disqualified from serving in any career leadership position at Justice, much less the one responsible for enforcing ethical standards.

Why, given the well-deserved black eye that OPR has suffered over the last year for its politically tilted investigations, would Holder appoint a hyper-Democratic loyalist such as Ashton to run the office? Perhaps because the über-political Holder wants to solidify the liberal bias that already pervades OPR and thereby ensure that the political machinations of his minions are glossed over (if not outright ignored).

The timing makes this appointment even more troubling than it would otherwise be. OPR is currently investigating allegations of undue political interference in the Civil Rights Division’s New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. OPR is supposed to be investigating claims by the trial team that supervisors improperly dismissed the case for political or racial reasons, and that political appointees instituted a policy prohibiting the enforcement of voting-rights laws against minority defendants like the New Black Panthers.

OPR (working in tandem with the Justice Department’s inspector general) is also supposed to be investigating whether these same supervisors and political appointees have engaged in unethical obstruction of the investigation undertaken by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith (R., Tex.), sent a letter to Eric Holder on January 6 demanding answers on all of these issues.

The investigation of the New Black Panther Party case has dragged on for more than a year and a half. OPR had to remove the lawyer initially assigned to investigate the case (Mary Aubry) after it became public that she had made thousands of dollars of political contributions to Barack Obama, other Democratic candidates, and the Democratic National Committee, with the latest contribution to the DNC coming as recently as July 13, 2010.

As I have written before, the same kinds of liberal ideologues who inhabit the career ranks of the Civil Rights Division also fill many of the career-attorney slots at OPR. These liberals are behind the report that OPR released on supposedly “politicized” hiring in the Civil Rights Division during the Bush administration — a report filled with inaccuracies, gross exaggerations, and deliberate misrepresentations of both facts and law. The report also brazenly ignored the extensive political hiring that occurred during the Clinton administration — hiring that had gone on at the direction of liberal career managers who sought to surround themselves with ideological soul mates.