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Durbin wants more info on Trump appointees 'burrowed' into career Justice Dept. jobs

The Illinois senator, citing NBC News' reporting, requested info on Trump appointees who landed career civil service jobs at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2021.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2021.Kevin Dietsch / AFP - Getty Images file

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Tuesday formally requested additional information from the Department of Justice about appointees by former President Donald Trump who had converted to civil service jobs with a crucial immigration department inside the agency.

The letter, which cited NBC News' reporting on the topic, requested information about Trump political appointees who were granted conversions into career jobs inside the Executive Office for Immigration Review — an influential department within the Justice Department that conducts removal and deportation proceedings in immigration courts across the country.

“While I am aware that such conversions have occurred at multiple DOJ components, I took particular note of multiple completed conversions at EOIR. Any such conversions to civil service positions at EOIR deserve substantial scrutiny given the Trump Administration’s pernicious attempts to implement and enforce an ideological agenda by politicizing the immigration court system,” Durbin wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, which was obtained exclusively by NBC News.

“As you are aware, problematic conversions can undermine the nonpartisan nature of the federal government’s career workforce, particularly when individuals convert to high-level civil service positions from political postings,” he said. “In addition to raising the specter of a politicized career workforce, such situations also call into question the fairness of the civil service hiring process.”

Durbin requested that Garland provide a full list of all Trump political appointees who are now working in civil service jobs at the Justice Department by May 10. He also asked for a full list of all political appointees that Trump's Justice Department had sought written authorization for from the Office of Personnel Management for conversion to civil service jobs with the exception of those who are serving in roles that the office does not have jurisdiction over.

NBC News reported earlier this month that at least two Trump political appointees had been granted conversions to career civil service jobs in leadership positions at the EOIR, prompting concerns from multiple government watchdog groups, which call the process “burrowing.”

Carl Risch, who had been an assistant secretary for consular affairs at the Department of State, a political job, in October applied to become the agency's second in command at the EOIR, a civil service job. His conversion was approved in December.

Risch was at least the second conversion in the last year to land at the EOIR. In February, NBC News reported that Tracy Short’s conversion to be the chief immigration judge at the agency, a civil service job, had been approved, after he’d worked as a senior adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a political job.

An EOIR spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about Durbin’s letter. Agency spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said earlier this month that Risch went through the standard pre-hiring review process with the Office of Personnel Management and that the agency had approved his new position. Mattingly said in February that Short had also gone through the the same process and that the agency had approved his new position.