In my post on Monica Goodling’s testimony, I neglected to discuss one absolutely critical element: her statement that she had been deeply engaged in the process of appointing immigration judges. These appointments were not subject to the normal civil service process, Monica claims she was told by Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’s former chief of staff, who indicated that he had received advice to this effect from the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Today, the Justice Department has been quick to deny this, stating that there is no disagreement within the Department and that the rules are clear: immigration judges are subject to the civil service rules.
Why does this matter? The appointments record of Alberto Gonzales has already raised eyebrows. He has appointed some 50 of the total 226 immigration judges. To be blunt, he has appointed a wave of partisan figures whose only apparent qualification has been service in the electoral front trenches for the GOP. The Legal Times had already commented on his curiously political appointment practices:
Among the 19 immigration judges hired since 2004: Francis Cramer, the former campaign treasurer for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg; James Nugent, the former vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; and Chris Brisack, a former Republican Party county chairman from Texas who had served on the state library commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush.”
Dana Milbank has a typically sardonic review of the issue in this morning’s Washington Post. But don’t miss the post at Balkinization which explores the roots of the issue from a legal perspective. As Georgetown Law Professor Marty Lederman puts it:
Something is happening here, but we don’t know what it is. Goodling obviously knew that her conduct in this regard was dubious, and testified about it even though no one had raised any question about it previously, so as to ensure that her immunity would extend to this episode, as well.
This is, I believe, what has happened: the DOJ inspector general’s probe will no longer be able to avoid Alberto Gonzales himself, and his former chief of staff. Gonzales will not be able to evade responsibility for his partisan appointments and his radical politicization of the Justice Department with his curiously selective memory.