More answers, more questions.
The Justice Department's Inspector General has broadened his investigation of the U.S. attorney firings, The Los Angeles Times
and New York Times
report this morning, to cover Monica Goodling's and others' political hiring of career employees at the department.
And there would seem to be plenty of material there for investigation. For instance, Goodling admitted on Wednesday that she'd openly taken political factors into account in hiring immigration judges.
For good reason, those are civil service positions, not political positions -- and they're supposed to be governed by civil service laws (meaning people are supposedly hired for their professional qualifications, not their partisan ones). They handle matters like deportation proceedings and political asylum requests. And there are only 226 of them. As the NY Times points out
, approximately 75 of those "have been appointed during the Bush administration," 49 of those during Gonzales' tenure. So there can be no doubt that Goodling's political hiring practices have had an impact on the nation's immigration proceedings.
Now, in her testimony, Goodling said that Kyle Sampson had told her that there was no problem with taking politics into account in hiring immigration judges. And the reason, he said, was that the department's Office of Legal Counsel had said it was OK. But
Justice Department officials said no such opinion existed.
They also denied Goodling's assertion that the hiring of immigration judges had been frozen after the department's civil division raised concerns about using a political litmus test.
"There is no disagreement within the department, including between the civil division and the Office of Legal Counsel, about whether the civil service laws apply to the appointment of immigration judges," said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. "They do apply."
As Marty Lederman puts it
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. (She was very well-advised by John Dowd.)"
To hear Goodling tell it, she was assured by the attorney general's chief of staff that there was a legal basis for stocking the nation's immigration courts with political loyalists -- when no such legal basis existed. And the Justice Department now disavows this activity all together. So how much did Alberto Gonzales know about this? And how much did the White House know? More questions...