While the House Judiciary Committee was voting this morning to hold Karl Rove in contempt of Congress for ignoring its subpoena, its Senate counterpart was exploring what's perhaps the most puzzling question surrounding this week's report on the politicization of hiring at the Justice Department: Exactly how did Monica Goodling, a 32-year-old party hack with no legal experience, come to wield effective veto power over the hiring of career, non-political appointees at department? Descriptions of her actions invariably resort to the passive voice ("was put in charge of", "was allowed to", etc.), but who neglected to supervise her adequately? Here's what the Justice Department Inspector General concluded in a rather remarkable footnote in the report (pdf, p. 22):
When we interviewed him, [Alberto] Gonzales stated that he was not aware at the time that Goodling used political factors in assessing candidates for career positions, was not aware of the search terms Goodling used in her background research, and was not even aware that Goodling's portfolio in the OAG [Office of the Attorney General] included the hiring of immigration judges. (emphasis added)
Now, it's hardly news that major functions at the Justice Department were, apparently, carried out without Gonzales's knowledge, but this level of ineptitude is impressive even by Fredo's standards. The OAG isn't some huge, nebulous office--according to the report (p. 10), it only had 25 employees at the time. And immigration judges aren't minor backroom bean counters; they're responsible for conducting formal court proceedings to determine what should be done with aliens who have been apprehended by federal authorities. Yet the former attorney general of the United States admits that he literally didn't know how they were being screened and selected by people under his direct supervision. Is it any surprise that this is what we've wound up with? It's particularly disappointing that someone with extensive experience practicing law in a border state would have so little regard for selecting qualified immigration judges.
I don't mean for the Plank to become Simpsons reference central today, but the best analogy I can think of is the episode where Homer is rushing to get his tax return to the post office before it closes, and decides to cover his eyes and run a red light, shouting, "If I don't see it, it's not illegal!" A few Democratic senators at the hearing today brought up the possibility of Goodling being disbarred. That certainly seems like an avenue worth exploring, but how about disbarring Gonzales? Not that it would have much of an impact on his career prospects...