Justice broadens internal investigation of Gonzales aides’ actions

? The Justice Department has broadened an internal investigation examining whether aides to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales improperly took into account political considerations in hiring department employees, officials familiar with the investigation said Thursday.

The expanded investigation, conducted by the department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, follows testimony Wednesday by former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling. She told a House committee that she considered party affiliation in screening applicants to become immigration judges.

The Justice Department also announced Thursday that it could find no record to support claims by Goodling in her testimony that taking politics into account in filling positions on the immigration bench had been approved by other department officials.

Goodling is under investigation for allegedly having violated federal civil service rules and department policy for considering partisan political activity in conducting reviews of candidates for career prosecutor positions. She testified before the House Judiciary Committee under a grant of immunity from prosecution based on her comments.

The internal Justice Department investigation, while focused on Goodling, could turn up embarrassing new revelations about Gonzales’ management practices and what, if anything, he knew about the role that politics played in hiring employees protected by civil service laws.

Gonzales’ tenure has been shaken by revelations of lax procedures in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The handling of the dismissals has prompted many Democrats and some Republicans in Congress to call for him to resign.

President Bush has stood by Gonzales, and he reiterated his support for his longtime aide at a Rose Garden news conference Thursday. He said he believed questions about the conduct of the attorney general were “kinda being drug out” for political reasons.

“If there’s wrongdoing, it will be taken care of,” Bush said.

The Senate scheduled a no-confidence vote on Gonzales for mid-June.