WASHINGTON - The investigation into firings of several U.S. attorneys has been expanded into the hiring practices at the U.S. Justice Department.
The probe now includes the Justice Department's civil rights branch and its programs for new lawyers, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
"We have expanded the scope of our investigation to include allegations regarding improper political or other considerations in hiring decisions within the Department of Justice," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, head of the Office of Professional Responsibility, wrote to the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is fending off calls for his resignation because of the dismissal of several federal prosecutors last year for what appears to be political reasons. However, improper hiring practices could be illegal, the newspaper said.
A spokesman for Gonzales declined to comment.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the probe draws attention to "the need for meaningful congressional oversight of this Justice Department and the Bush administration."
Meanwhile, officials said interim U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin of Little Rock, Ark., is leaving office. Griffin, who replaced fired prosecutor Bud Cummins, is a former Republican National Committee researcher and aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
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