WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is considering launching a grand jury investigation into whether one of its former leaders misled Congress about playing politics with civil rights issues, a government official said Monday.
The move amounts to a first step from an internal inquiry toward possible criminal charges in the scandal that helped force the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
At issue is whether Bradley Schlozman intentionally misled senators during a June 2007 hearing when he gave conflicting statements about his role in an election-eve filing of a voter fraud lawsuit in Missouri while serving, a year earlier, as a U.S. attorney based in Kansas City.
He also angered Democrats at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when he admitted to boasting about hiring conservative loyalists over better-qualified lawyers in 2005, during his tenure as acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division.
The department's inspector general has been investigating Schlozman's statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee in an internal inquiry over the past year.
On Monday, an official said the Justice Department has issued a grand jury referral — an internal first step toward asking a grand jury to take up the case. The official spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue.
It's not clear whether the issue already has been sent to a grand jury.
Schlozman and his Atlanta-based attorney, Bill Jordan, declined to be interviewed Monday. In an e-mail statement, Jordan said Schlozman "has not been contacted by the Justice Department regarding this alleged referral."
A Justice spokesman also declined to comment.
The referral was first reported in Monday's editions of the Wall Street Journal.
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