The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating whether a career attorney in the department was dismissed from her job because of rumors that she is a lesbian. The case grew out of a larger inquiry into the firings of U.S. attorneys and politicization at Justice under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Several people interviewed by the inspector general’s staff described the case to NPR and said they came away with the impression that the Attorney General’s office decided not to renew Leslie Hagen’s contract because of the talk about her sexual orientation. Hagen received the highest possible ratings for her work as liaison between the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys’ committee on Native American issues.
Hagen would not comment for this story, but her job evaluation is consistent with what many others have said about her. A dozen former colleagues, inside and outside of the Justice Department, were interviewed for this story. They worked above, below and side by side with Hagen.
Each one raved about her work.
The job Hagen filled at the Justice Department comes up for renewal every year. According to department sources, she had hoped to stay in the position rather than return to Michigan as a prosecutor and her supervisors wanted to renew her contract. But in October 2006, word came down from the attorney general’s office that Hagen had to move on.
The official line on Hagen’s dismissal was that contracts like hers are a privilege. Rotating new people through the job each year gives more people a chance to serve.
But what happened next seems to undermine that explanation. Internal Justice Department documents obtained by NPR show that soon after Hagen was let go, two people in her office had their contracts renewed for another year.
And Hagen’s post remained vacant months after she left.
Justice Department e-mails obtained by NPR show that Gonzales’s senior counsel Monica Goodling had a particular interest in Hagen’s duties. A few months before Hagen was let go, according to one e-mail, Goodling removed part of Hagen’s job portfolio — the part dealing with child exploitation and abuse.
Goodling’s conversation with [Rep. Bobby] Scott [at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in May 2007] focused on whether Republican Party loyalty factored into her hiring decisions. But by all accounts, Hagen was a GOP loyalist.
So, what was Goodling’s problem with Hagen?
The Justice Department’s inspector general is looking into whether Hagen was dismissed after a rumor reached Goodling that Hagen is a lesbian.
As one Republican source put it, “To some people, that’s even worse than being a Democrat.”
Someone who worked in Hagen’s office says that in a 2006 meeting, senior officials were told that Hagen’s contract would not be renewed because someone on the attorney general’s staff had a problem with Hagen. The problem, it was suggested during the conversation, was sexual orientation — or what was rumored to be Hagen’s sexual orientation.
One person at the meeting asked, “Is that really an issue?” But the decision had been made.