TPM News

Monica Goodling says she was given the green light to hire immigration judges based on their political qualifications. So how'd that happen? And who's been getting the gig?

As a story in The Legal Times last year explained, immigration judges are different from other federal judges in that they're civil service employees -- meaning that there's a formal application process with the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review.

But, Jason McLure reported, "according to an immigration-judge hiring policy released by the Justice Department, the attorney general also has the option to pre-empt the formal vetting process and directly hire a judge of his choosing."

It was apparently this option that allowed Goodling, and others at the department before her, to do their thing.

So who's been getting the gig? The Times last year profiled one of those judges, Garry Malphrus.

A former Republican aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Malphrus also worked on the White House's Domestic Policy Council before becoming a judge. But he really showed his stripes in 2000, when Malphrus joined other Republicans in making a ruckus (chanting, pounding on windows and doors) outside the Miami-Dade Elections Department -- the so-called "Brooks Brothers Riot" -- during the Bush-Gore recount.

Malphrus, of course, had no immigration experience when he got the job, McLure reports. He had that in common with a number of his peers, who had similar backgrounds:

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.


But why bother becoming an immigration judge? Well, the salary isn't bad ($113,904 in 2006) and "unlike his former colleagues at the White House, as a career civil service employee, Malphrus won’t be out of work should Republicans lose the White House in 2008." And as a friend of Malphrus tells McLure, "I think he's just working his way up the totem pole."

Now, here's the thing. Malphrus and all the others cited in McLure's piece were appointed before Goodling became White House liaison in April, 2005.

Read More →

Former U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger excoriated the Justice Department following Monica Goodling’s testimony Wednesday that mentioned his excessive concern with Indian affairs. Heffelfinger, who was a U.S. Attorney under both Bushes, claimed “something is fundamentally broken within the Department of Justice.” (Star Tribune)

The House passed a bill yesterday requiring lawmakers to publicly disclose not only their individual fundraisers, but also the lobbyists that bundle the individual gifts. (NY Times)

Yesterday, an anonymous Senator put a hold on the bipartisan Freedom of Information Act of 2007. Yes, a secret hold is blocking a bill that would promote openness and accountability in government. (Public Citizen’s Congress Watch)

Read More →

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, "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. (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...

General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan was such a hit in her hearing with the House oversight committee last time around, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants her back. You can read Waxman's letter to Doan here (pdf).

Waxman wants to know if Doan tried to smear agency employees who testified against her in an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel. All the employees who were witnesses, she told investigators, were biased against her -- they were poor performers who "will not be getting promoted and they will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature."

The Office of Special Counsel recently concluded its investigation of Doan and found that she'd violated the Hatch Act, a finding which could lead to her termination. On January 26th, Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings gave a presentation at GSA headquarters about Republican political prospects. According to several witnesses, Doan asked "How can we help our candidates" at the conclusion of the presentation. After some participants offered suggestions, Jennings asked that the session be taken "off-line." It's against the law to use federal resources for political ends.

Now, Doan has testified that she doesn't remember ever saying anything about "helping our candidates." And she apparently tried very hard to convince investigators that all those witnesses were disgruntled. "There's not a single one of those who did not have somewhere in between a poor to totally inferior performance."

Except that wasn't true, investigators found. So Waxman wants to know why she'd say such a thing. The hearing is scheduled for June 7.

Smearing employees who don't toe the line seems to be something of a hobby with the Bush administration, Waxman notes:

Over the past five months, it's become clear that the Justice Department falsely raised issues about the competence of the eight U.S. Attorneys who were dismissed last December. That tactic has been condemned across our country and by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. It would be remarkable if you adopted that same tactic in trying to discredit GSA employees who cooperated with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Office of Special Counsel.

Since they weren't subjected to the Justice Department's vigorous Why-Did-We-Fire-Them brainstorming sessions, former U.S. attorneys Thomas Heffelfinger (Minnesota) and Todd Graves (Kansas City) got their first taste of it yesterday during Monica Goodling's testimony. They didn't like it.

Of Heffelfinger, who stepped down in February of last year (he says he resigned voluntarily, though that was just a month after he appeared on one of Kyle Sampson's firing lists), Goodling said that she'd heard he "spent an extraordinary amount of time" working on his work related to his position as chairman of the subcommittee of U.S. attorneys that deals with American Indian issues.

Heffelfinger's response: "I did spent a lot of time on it... That's what I was instructed to do [by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft]". And:

"If it's true that people within the Department of Justice were critical of the amount of time I was spending on Indian issues, I'm outraged... Are they telling me I spent too much time trying to improve public safety for Native Americans, who are victims of violent crime at a rate 2½ times the national population? If they are, then shame on them."


And of Graves -- who was asked to resign in January of last year?

Read More →

In a press conference today, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had agreed to bring the no-confidence resolution concerning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Senate floor after the immigration bill -- meaning probably the second week of June. The Senate has a one week recess next week.

The resolution itself is a brief one, simply expressing no confidence in Gonzales. "Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled: It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and the American people."

In his press conference today, President Bush returned to his favored "political theater" talking point when asked about the continuing scandal at the Justice Department.

The continued drip, drip, drip of revelations has shaken public confidence in the Justice Department, the reporter asked, how can you reassure the American people?

Sounding more than a little beleaguered, Bush responded "I thought it was interesting how you started your question, ‘over the months,’ I think you said, ‘over the last months'... this investigation is taking a long time…. kind of being drug (sic) out, I suspect for political reasons… as I mentioned it the other day, it’s 'grand political theater.'"



You might say that the investigation has taken such an awfully long time because the Justice Department misled Congress when questions were first asked about the U.S. attorney firings (senior Department officials even giving false testimony to Congress), the White House has stonewalled, a key witness invoked the Fifth Amendment, and despite all this, the revelations have just kept on coming steadily over the past three months. That might explain why Bush sounds so tired.

Update: It's worth taking a look at our U.S. Attorney Scandal Timeline to see why the investigation has "drug on" for so long.

Nancy Pelosi is working hard to pass a lobbying bill that will “end the tight-knit relationship between lobbyists and lawmakers.” The problem, according to critics, is that the current bill does nothing of the sort. (USA TODAY)

Freshmen members of the Democratic majority are eagerly pushing stringent ethics reform, and not just because reform was a touchstone of their congressional bids; the Republican Congressional Committee is emailing voters to highlight how Democrats' reforms have not matched their rhetoric. Meanwhile, Democratic chairmen are having a tough time embracing reform after a few months as the lobbyists’ darlings. (The Politico, The Hill)

Looking to avoid the stigma associated with earmarking, lawmakers are finding creative ways to secure money for their favorite causes, including a practice called “phonemarking.” (Washington Post)

Rep. Murtha (D-PA) apologized to Rep. Rogers (R-MI) for his recent outburst on earmarks.

Read More →

So -- the day we'd been waiting for has come and gone. The major points are clear by now:

1) Goodling, as directly as she could, accused the deputy attorney general of perjuring himself in testimony to Congress.

2) She said that, in their last conversation, the attorney general had tried to check his recollection of the firing process with her. This was after Congress had requested to interview her, leading to the conclusion that Gonzales was trying to shape her recollection. For his part, Gonzales, through his spokesman, says he was only trying to "comfort her in a very difficult period of her life."

3) She admitted to breaking the law by applying a political litmus test to non-political career positions at the Justice Department, including assistant U.S. attorneys -- that litmus test even included checking applicants' political contributions. She couldn't say just how many times she'd done this, and it was unclear who, if anyone, had told her to do this.

4) Even though she described herself as having a major role in the firing process, she knew remarkably little about it. In fact, she gave the inescapable impression that those involved in the process avoided talking about the reasons for the firings -- or, at least, with the exception of the now-famous brainstorming sessions that took place after Congress started asking questions, reasons certainly were not volunteered. When Goodling herself asked in a meeting who'd put U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias on the firing list (this was in February), a voice said "that's been addressed." She says she can't remember who said that.

With the exception of the meeting with Gonzales, Goodling unloaded all of this in her first minutes of testimony. And as Dahlia Lithwick points out in her column today, the hearing was largely characterized after that by what was left unsaid:

In that first few hours, Goodling manages to give committee Democrats both too much and too little to wrap their heads around. She testifies that former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty gave false and misleading testimony to the Senate with regard to the U.S. attorney purge. She took the Fifth, she says, because of McNulty's inaccurate testimony, plus the "ambiguous environment" of the hearings, and not because of any crime of her own. She testifies that her role as White House liaison has been overblown. She had little contact with the White House (or Karl Rove or Harriet Miers) about the names on the list of U.S. attorneys who were fired but concedes that the White House was extensively involved ("several departments signed off") in the process. She talks about the "final decisionmakers" without ever quite naming them. She puts her former bosses Kyle Sampson, McNulty, and Gonzales in the room as the arbiters of the "list." But almost nobody sees fit to ask follow-up questions about how the list was made, what criteria were used, and what exactly the White House did to play along. Nobody asks why she cried when she quit, what she made of those e-mails, or much of anything at all about Alberto Gonzales.

Finally, Goodling takes complete blame for having "crossed the line"—even the legal line, i.e., the civil-service rules—by asking "political questions of applicants for career positions." In response to a question from Bobby Scott, D-Va., she adds, "But I didn't mean to." Oh. Well then, that's OK....

Democrats who might have pursued the leads she floated about the White House role in the firings stop asking these questions once Goodling fails to implicate Rove. They are so blindsided by her admission of injecting politics into her own hiring practices that they forget to ask who else at the DoJ might have directed her to do so, or done so themselves.


The Democrats have five more days to ask follow-up questions of Goodling. There's still plenty of ground to cover.

During her testimony today, Monica Goodling pointed the finger squarely at Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, saying that he had not been "fully candid" in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his knowledge of White House involvement in the U.S. attorney firings (McNulty had earlier pointed the finger at Sampson and Goodling for not informing him of the White House's role). Goodling laid out four key areas where she said McNulty hadn't told the whole truth in her written statement (pdf) to the committee. Perhaps the most serious allegation she made was that McNulty had told the commmittee that he didn't have any knowledge of how Tim Griffin, Karl Rove's former aide, had come to be appointed the U.S. attorney for Little Rock. In fact, Goodling said, she'd told him that the White House had been involved in Griffin's appointment all along.

Here's Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) questioning Goodling about that. McNulty testified to the committee that he did not know whether Karl Rove had had any role in Griffin's appointment -- but Goodling says that he "had been given some information on that."



But here's a statement just out from McNulty, via the Department of Justice:

“I testified truthfully at the Feb. 6, 2007, hearing based on what I knew at that time. Ms. Goodling's characterization of my testimony is wrong and not supported by the extensive record of documents and testimony already provided to Congress.”

TPMLivewire