Washington (CNN)The first Latino attorney general in U.S. history believes Donald Trump has a right to question whether a judge with Hispanic background who is presiding over a Trump University lawsuit is able to adjudicate the case unbiasedly.
Trump in recent days has escalated his attacks against U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who last week ordered parts of internal documents, including “playbooks” regarding running the enterprise, to be released as part of a lawsuit against Trump University. The documents were released in response to a request by The Washington Post.
Alberto Gonzales, who led the Justice Department under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Saturday that Curiel’s Mexican heritage shouldn’t be enough to disqualify him from overseeing the case.
But, Gonzales said, Trump is entitled to a fair trial, and the appearance of impropriety could be enough for him to reasonably request that Curiel recuse himself. He cited Curiel’s membership in the La Raza Lawyers Association’s San Diego chapter — although the lawyers group is unaffiliated with the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group that has opposed Trump, the billionaire “may be concerned that the lawyers’ association or its members represent or support the other advocacy organization.”
“These circumstances, while not necessarily conclusive, at least raise a legitimate question to be considered,” Gonzales wrote. “Regardless of the way Trump has gone about raising his concerns over whether he’s getting a fair trial, none of us should dismiss those concerns out of hand without carefully examining how a defendant in his position might perceive them — and we certainly should not dismiss them for partisan political reasons.”
Saturday afternoon, Trump replied to Gonzales’ op-ed.
“Thank you Attorney General Gonzales,” Trump tweeted, “so many people feel this way.”
Trump this week alleged that Curiel might have an “inherent conflict of interest” because of his background as Trump calls for tougher immigration policies and new trade agreements with Mexico. The billionaire has attracted criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday calling the remarks “out of left field” and Hillary Clinton on Saturday saying his comments are “a prejudiced, bigoted attack.”
Trump has vociferously denied that his criticism is motivated by racism.
“If he was giving me a fair ruling, I wouldn’t say that,” Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday, pointing again to Curiel’s background. “I think that’s why he’s doing it.”