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An Open Letter to a Justice Dept. Addicted to Cronyism

Dear Justice Dept,

I know it’s been a while since we talked, but I felt compelled to reach out to you. I read a report this morning by Brian Ross, Anna Schecter and my friend Murray Waas about how you funneled money for at-risk inner city youth toward a golf program run by the allies of George W. Bush. You need to take stock: you have a real problem.

Before you get defensive, I just want to say I know. I know all about how hard it was for you to get rid of Alberto Gonzales. I remember cheering for you — it seemed like you had your cronyism problem under control. I was proud of you, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. We’ve come too far to be holding back now. But look at this and tell me you don’t have a problem.

“We need something really attractive to engage the gangs and the street kids, golf is the hook,” said J. Robert Flores, the administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The Justice Department, in a decision by Flores, gave the money to the World Golf Foundation’s First Tee program, even though Justice Department staffers had rated the program 47th on a list of 104 applicants. The allegations were first reported earlier this year by the trade journal Youth Today.

“I don’t know why people insist on denigrating it, it’s a sound program,” Flores told ABC News.

Current and former Justice Department employees allege that Flores ignored the staff rankings in favor of programs that had political, social or religious connections to the Bush White House.

Don’t take that tone with me! Fine, you’re angry. It’s part of acceptance. But just please for a second listen. One of your own ex-employees smuggled documents out of Main Justice in order to get help for you. “This is cronyism, this is waste, fraud and abuse,” ex-DOJ staffer Scott Peterson told Murray et al. Don’t you think he cares?

I know this is ugly and uncomfortable and you’re crying now and I never meant for that to happen but maybe this is healthy. You have to take stock before we can close this chapter. We’re almost through now. But you need to acknowledge this:

A Washington, D.C. program, Best Friends, that promotes abstinence was awarded $1.1 million by Flores even though it ranked 53rd on a list of 104 applicants.

Best Friends is run by Elayne Bennett, the wife of Bill Bennett, a former Republican cabinet member and now political commentator.

That’s not the Justice Dept. I know. You’re better than this. Remember when you broke up Microsoft? That’s still you. No one can take that away. We just want you to get better. Do it for the kids.

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