The Slatest

Trump Appointee Accused of Using Political Criteria to Help DOJ Determine Who Gets Grants

Exterior of the Department of Justice building in Washington.
The impartiality of the Department of Justice comes under fire again.
Alastair Pike/Getty Images

A recent complaint filed with the Department of Justice alleges the Trump administration has been using a political litmus test to help determine which local governments, nonprofits, and other organizations receive government grants to assist crime victims, Reuters reports. The accusation comes from the largest U.S. public employees union, which has filed a complaint with the DOJ’s inspector general alleging that a Trump political appointee at the Office for Victims of Crime scoured the social media posts of prospective grant peer reviewers to see if they agreed with Trump administration policies on immigration and prostitution. The paid peer reviewers’ role in the process is to review applications and make nonbinding recommendations to the DOJ to ensure the grants process is fair and impartial.

The complaint, filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees last month, says Trump appointee Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, a Republican from Alabama, who took over the Office for Victims of Crime in 2017, used political criteria as part of the peer review selection process. “The complaint includes copies of internal documents showing lists of peer reviewers’ names with a column next to each in which Hutchinson Biehl made notes showing she had looked up people’s profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter,” a union official told Reuters. “Some employees believe the rejection of some peer reviewers was primarily based on views expressed on social media, the complaint alleges.”

“A Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Hutchinson Biehl is screening peer reviewers and occasionally looking at social media profiles, but denied that she was making politically motivated decisions,” according to Reuters. “The official acknowledged that Hutchinson Biehl has struck about 20 resumes out of hundreds of reviewers, though some of those people were still able to serve on other panels to review grant applications.”