Obama’s Unprecedented Politicization of Justice and the Foreign Service

Among the most glaring of the President's hypocrisies,

It’s almost impossible not to appreciate the irony of the recent congressional suit against President Obama for allegedly violating the War Powers Act by continuing American involvement (and in many ways, leadership) in the war against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi without congressional approval.

Voters were warned repeatedly in 2008 that a John McCain presidency would be a third George W. Bush term. Yet in many ways Obama has not only continued Bush policies but expanded on them in ways that have drawn criticism from both the left and the right. He can’t win.


He has angered the Tea Party folks by continuing and extending the bailouts begun by Bush. At the first Republican presidential debate, Michele Bachmann boasted of having opposed Bush’s TARP program, and Mitt Romney even criticized Bush by name, saying that instead of a managed bankruptcy, “the Bush administration and the Obama administration wrote checks to the auto industry.”

Similarly, the Obama administration’s troop surge in Afghanistan upset the antiwar left, and his increased use of drone attacks and the war in Libya have made pacifists and opponents of expanded executive power cringe.

Overall, the hypocrisy charge is perhaps the most effective one here, since many of those national security policies have been successful and the continuity from one administration to the next in this partisan atmosphere can even be comforting (especially to the troops). But the fact remains that Obama campaigned by mostly criticizing Bush on these and other issues, and the media joined him in slamming what became an easy target and forgetting about the supposed principles of the matter once a Democrat was in office.

Among the most glaring of these hypocrisies, however, has been the charge of politicizing government, especially the Justice Department. The last few weeks have demonstrated that if that were true, Obama has far exceeded what Bush supposedly did. The most recent example came from Politico, which amplified a report from the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News that two and a half years into the Obama administration, the number of large donors and fundraisers known as “bundlers” that received administration jobs has already equaled that of the entire Bush administration’s eight years in office. In the case of the Obama administration, some of those bundlers even benefited from government contracts won after the election, such as Level 3 Communications vice president Donald H. Gips.

“After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions,” Politico reported. “Then, in mid-2009, Obama named him ambassador to South Africa. Meanwhile, Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states — though Gips said he had been ‘completely unaware’ that the company had received the contracts.

“More than two years after Obama took office vowing to banish ‘special interests’ from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found.”

The investigation also revealed that of Obama’s ambassadorial nominations, 36 percent were “political” in nature. Jake Tapper reported that this was 6 percent higher than Bush.


One of the “scandals” of the Bush administration was his supposed politicization of the Justice Department, by hiring a few conservatives to add some diversity of thought and background to the otherwise reliably homogenous department. Liberals were outraged by the new diversity, and spun it into a major story. On May 31, however, the New York Times published a piece on Obama’s correction of that diversity. Though they did their best to spin the revelations, the key takeaway came 12 paragraphs in.

“At the same time, there was a change in the political leanings of organizations listed on the résumés, where discernible,” the reporters wrote. “Nearly a quarter of the hires of the Bush group had conservative credentials like membership in the Federalist Society or the Republican National Lawyers Association, while only 7 percent had liberal ones.

“By contrast, during the first two Obama years, none of the new hires listed conservative organizations, while more than 60 percent had liberal credentials. They consisted overwhelmingly of prior employment or internships with a traditional civil rights group, like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.”

In other words, Bush hired some conservatives and a few clear liberals, while Obama refused to hire anyone who could possibly be mistaken for conservative. If you had liberal credentials on your resume, you were more than twice as likely to be hired by Obama than a conservative was to be hired by Bush.

Additionally, the Times reported that “the Obama-era hires graduated from law schools that had an average ranking of 28, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Bush group had a lower average ranking, 42.” So the lack of diversity was a concentrated goal of the Obama Justice Department all the way around.

There was more evidence of this. Every year, the Justice Department sends staff to the annual conferences of various organizations. The Bush administration noticed that the Clinton administration had not a single conservative organization on the list, so they added one: the Federalist Society. A month after Obama took office, as Hans A. von Spakovsky reported, the Federalist Society was removed from conference participants. (After this became public the Federalist Society was returned to the list, and an additional liberal group was added to the list as well.)

This will come as no surprise to those who have been following Eric Holder’s tenure at Justice. Holder—after promising he wouldn’t—reopened investigations into CIA interrogators, despite the fact that the cases were closed when career prosecutors determined no criminal activity had taken place. This was perhaps the most blatant politicization of the Justice Department that has ever come to light. And it appears to be official policy.

So while the economy under Obama’s management is still suffering, he appears to have revived one industry: cronyism at the federal level is flourishing.

Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.