Thornburgh Replaces Civil Servants with Political Appointees
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nine months after Attorney General Dick Thornburgh ousted five career civil servants from the Justice Department’s public affairs staff, he has hired two political appointees to help answer reporters’ queries.
Michael Robinson, who helps edit the daily news summary for President Bush, and Amy J. Casner, an aide to Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, will soon join the department, chief spokesman David Runkel said Friday.
Thornburgh had cited budgetary constraints nine months ago when he laid off the five career spokesmen with many years in their jobs. The latest appointments bring to three the number of new public affairs officers hired since the office was scaled back.
Last spring, Thornburgh appointed Daniel Eramian, who had been a Republican Party spokesman in the Massachusetts legislature, to be deputy public affairs director.
Runkel denied that the hirings are part of a plan to replace career employees with Republican Party loyalists. But since the layoffs earlier this year, Joseph C. Krovisky has been the only civil servant working as a Justice Department spokesman.
″The intention of the the January RIFS (reductions in force), an action which has been upheld by the Office of Personnel Management, was to bring the department’s public affairs office within the budget set for it by the Congress,″ Runkel said.
″There is nothing being done which in any way would run counter to the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) personnel and budgetary provisions for the public affairs office,″ Runkel said.
″This does not signal any increase in the personnel level or the budget,″ Runkel said. He declined to say whether that meant someone currently on the staff would be leaving.
Runkel, who heads the office of Public Affairs, was Thornburgh’s press secretary when the attorney general was governor of Pennsylvania.
Casner, who has worked in advertising as well as the Bush-Quayle campaign press office last year, will be paid $28,800 a year.
Robinson, who has worked for the Syracuse Post-Standard, the Chicago Sun- Times and The New York Times, will be paid $26,200, Runkel said.
″I think you will find these are bright, energetic people who will assist our public affairs office,″ he said.
Thornburgh has had rocky relations with the Justice Department press corps in recent months.
He has been outspoken about stopping news leaks of details of ongoing criminal investigations, saying that Justice Department attorneys should not talk to reporters.
He has ordered several leak investigations, notably an extensive probe into disclosures that the FBI was investigating alleged financial irregularities in the office of Rep. William Gray III, D-Pa.
That leak proved particularly embarrassing for Thornburgh because it came as Gray was running for House majority whip.
Accusations from Democrats that the Justice Department was engaged in political leaks prompted one of Thornburgh’s top aides to state that Gray was not a target of the investigation.
The Justice Department considered subpoenaing the telephone records of Rita Braver, the CBS correspondent who first reported the Gray story. But leak investigators dropped the effort after determining the telephone company doesn’t log local calls.
Since then, the Justice Department’s criminal division adopted a new policy allowing for the prosecution of officials for theft of government property if they leak non-classified information about criminal investigations.
Previous department policy dating back to 1978 had barred the use of the statute to prosecute leakers. Conviction of the theft charge carries a 10-year prison term.