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Whistleblowers Allege Improper Hiring At Justice Department During Trump's Last Days

Jeffrey Bossert Clark during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Jeffrey Bossert Clark during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017.

Two whistleblowers assert that a Justice Department official improperly injected politics into the hiring process during his waning days in the Trump administration, according to a new filing obtained by NPR.

The whistleblowers accuse Jeffrey Bossert Clark of conducting a "sham" process and elevating a person who volunteered to defend a controversial Trump policy on abortion access, even though the person had far less experience than other finalists for the job in the Civil Division, they said in a Wednesday letter to House and Senate lawmakers and the Justice Department's inspector general. Clark was then the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the department's Civil Division.

Clark drew nationwide attention this year after The New York Times reported he had discussed a way to unseat the acting attorney general, take the job for himself and advance then-President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn Georgia's election results before the congressional certification of electoral votes in January.

The scandal figured in Trump's second impeachment trial — and it renewed concerns about partisan political influence on Justice Department operations.

The whistleblowers said that Clark's participation in the hiring process for an assistant director of the Civil Division was unusual and that he engaged in "perfunctory" 15-minute interviews with two more highly qualified finalists for the post. Their letter said Clark had "used a timer" in the meetings and was not "particularly engaged."

Clark announced his decision two days before he left the Justice Department in January. Two other officials in the Civil Division said they did not believe the hiring decision was motivated by politics, the letter said. But the whistleblowers disagreed.

"What set the successful appointee apart from the other candidates was that the appointee — unlike the others — had volunteered and was part of the DOJ litigation team defending a controversial Trump administration policy," according to their letter. That policy barred pregnant, unaccompanied minors in federal immigration custody from obtaining abortions. A court later determined the policy was unconstitutional.

David Seide, a senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project, represents the whistleblowers.

"Like other instances of misconduct by departing Trump administration officials, these abuses of authority are disturbing," Seide said. "Mr. Clark's last-minute politicization of the DOJ hiring process and issuance of policy memoranda — capped by his willingness to participate in what was close to an attempted coup d'état — demands immediate, close and transparent oversight and investigations."

Clark could not be reached for immediate comment on the new whistleblower letter. He told The New York Times this year that, on the issue of attempts to overturn the election results, "there was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president. It is unfortunate that those who were part of a privileged legal conversation would comment in public about such internal deliberations, while also distorting any discussions."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.