But the department's inspector general concluded otherwise, finding that Adams acted improperly in describing a drug convict applying for a pardon as "about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian."
"Unfortunately, that's not very honest," Adams allegedly told a co-worker, according to the inspector general's December 2007 report.
The inspector general's office said it did not find reason to doubt the accuracy of the statement after its own interview with Adams.
"We believe that Adams' comments - and his use of nationality in the decision-making process - were inappropriate," the report concluded. "We were extremely troubled by Adams' belief that an applicant's 'ethnic background' was something that should be an 'important consideration' in a pardon decision."
The investigation also concluded that Adams threatened to transfer or otherwise retaliate against staffers who complained about his management style to the inspector general, which is the Justice Department's internal watchdog.
Among their complaints, dating back to 2001, were claims that Adams allowed at least one employee to take extended breaks while denying the same to others, and that he improperly framed and displayed historical documents in his office that should have been safeguarded in government archives.
The pardon attorney's office reviews more than 1,000 applications for clemency each year and prepares a recommendation on each for the president. It had an estimated backlog of 3,055 applications as of Oct. 1, up from 2,255 a year earlier, according to data included in the Bush administration's 2009 budget request that was issued this week.
Adams recently left his post as pardon attorney voluntarily and now works in the general counsel's office at the Justice Department's management division, agency spokesman Erik Ablin said Tuesday in a statement.
"After serving as pardon attorney for over 10 years, Roger Adams concluded that he was ready for a new assignment within the Department of Justice to complement his 35-year DOJ career," Ablin said.
The inspector general's report describes a poisonous work environment - apparently felt by both Adams and his staff - in the pardon attorney's office. The heavily edited report was spurred by complaints in June 2007 from unnamed Justice employees, some of whom apparently kept notes over the years detailing conversations they had with Adams.
In a 22-page response that was almost as long as the report itself, Adams defended himself and said he disagreed with the inspector general's conclusions. He alluded to administrative disputes with some on his staff, whom he indicated may have timed their complaints to "potentially cause me the most embarrassment."
Adams said he was particularly troubled by the accusation that he used race or ethnic origin as a factor in deciding whether to recommend a pardon.
"As any person who has known me for any length of time will attest, I am neither racially biased nor insensitive," Adams wrote.
Portions of the inspector general's report became public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. It surfaced first in an op-ed article published in Monday's editions of The New York Times.