ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

After months of investigations, hearings and debates, the Senate today is holding a procedural vote on a measure expressing no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Members of both parties have made it clear that they unhappy with Gonzales's performance. Many have called on him to resign. Still, the no-confidence bill is not expected to get the two-thirds majority necessary to move forward.

Joining us in the studio is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. And Nina, even if the Senate got the vote on the resolution, would it really mean anything?

NINA TOTENBERG: Well, probably not. This is largely a symbolic vote. The president has said he's standing by his man. That he's not going to get kicked around and forced to throw or award somebody from his cabinet. Gonzales doesn't really have any defenders in the Senate, but Republicans, by and large, don't really like playing into this game of - the Democrats have set up for them. It sort of looks like a trap, and so they don't really like it. And even some Democrats don't like it.

NORRIS: So the president, as you say, is standing by his man while Republicans hold the party line?

TOTENBERG: Well, probably not uniformly. Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican has already said that he will vote to cut off debate on this, and to go ahead with the vote of no confidence and that he does not have confidence in Alberto Gonzales. But you need 60 votes to cut off debate and it certainly doesn't look like there are 60 votes to cut off debate.

NORRIS: Now, Alberto Gonzales is at the center of this storm, but it seems like something else might be at work also.

TOTENBERG: Well, you know, this is not just about the firing of the eight or nine or how many U.S. attorneys that you count were fired. It's about politicizing the Justice Department.

We have aides to Gonzales testifying that they used political criteria in hiring for career positions at the Justice Department, and that really is a no-no. It's illegal under the Hatch Act.

The attorney general's senior councilor Monica Goodling testified that she did that in hiring immigration judges. And in fact, the Justice Department recently lost a discrimination lawsuit brought by the government's chief immigration lawyer in El Paso, a Latina veteran of the department who was twice passed over for a judgeship in favor of less qualified white men who were hired without an open application process. They were just, sort of - she weren't in there.

NORRIS: Now speaking of immigration judges, today's Washington Post has a story analyzing the administration selection of immigration judges going back to 2004.

TOTENBERG: The paper found that at least a third of the newly appointed immigration judges had Republican connections or had been administration insiders, and half lacked experience at all in immigration law. In fact, two of the newly appointed immigration judges were failed candidates for the U.S. Tax Court.

One of them had been rejected by the Senate for confirmation because he'd taken inappropriate tax reductions. And the other failed because the American Bar Association tax section took the rare step of writing to the Senate Finance Committee that this guy wasn't qualified to be a tax judge. So then, they decided, okay, you won't be a tax judge. You'll be immigration judge. This is the kind of thing that really got people's eyes rolling.

NORRIS: Now, getting back to the attorney general, it looks very much as you say as though the president is going to back him for the long haul. So yet, another standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill, how will this all play out?

TOTENBERG: Well, it's going to get uglier. The White House is staffing up, hiring new lawyers to defend itself against subpoenas by the Democratic control of Congress. And I would expect that it's very likely that a bipartisan group of senators, for example, is going to subpoena. They have not yet subpoenaed. But they will subpoena the legal documents, the legal justifications for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act activities that had been so controversial and that we still don't know exactly what happened. They're not asking for operational details, but they will ask for the legal justifications. They asked for them. The date to supply them has now since past. And I would expect that they will soon be subpoenaed and we will be on the way to a real confrontation.

NORRIS: Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR senior legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

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