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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I rise today to express my opposition to the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be Ambassador to El Salvador. Her confirmation has been unanimously opposed twice by all Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and for good reason.
Before I discuss Ms. Aponte, I would like to clarify some facts about the nomination process. Several Democrats have voiced complaints recently about Senate Republicans' supposed obstruction when it comes to President Obama's nominees, but most of his nominees have not even been contested. In fact, since Obama became President, the Senate has confirmed 1,198 of his nominees. Only a small fraction of these nominees have been so controversial that they have been blocked by the Senate.
As a Member of the Senate, I take the Senate's constitutional duty to provide advice and consent to the President regarding his nominees seriously. While the overwhelming majority of nominees are easily confirmed, some do rise to such a level that further debate and scrutiny are required by the Senate. Ms. Aponte is one of these nominees.
This is not the first time the Senate has considered confirming Ms. Aponte for an ambassadorship. She was first nominated by former President Clinton in 1998 to be the Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. At the time, Senator Jesse Helms, who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, learned of possible background issues and concerns by investigators relating to Ms. Aponte's ties to Cuban intelligence. Primarily, the question centered around the 12-year romantic relationship she had with a man who was targeted as part of an FBI counterintelligence investigation and allegedly worked for Cuba's spy agency. A high-ranking Cuban defector claimed that Cuban intelligence tried to recruit Ms. Aponte to be a spy for the Cuban Government. Rather than discuss her past relationship, Ms. Aponte withdrew her nomination, and it was filled by someone else.
Eventually, Ms. Aponte was given a top security clearance by the State Department despite what some have described as serious objections from career officials.
When President Obama nominated Ms. Aponte in March of 2010 to be Ambassador to El Salvador, Republicans asked for more information to address the allegations that had previously surfaced--namely, information about the scope of the 1998 investigation, including an update to that file; second, information about the Cuban defector who was handled by the CIA who publicly alleged that Cuban intelligence had attempted to recruit Ms. Aponte through her longtime live-in boyfriend; and third, information about the FBI's counterintelligence investigation that led to Ms. Aponte's refusal to take a lie detector test in 1994, as requested by the FBI. Serious questions, honest questions.
Instead of allowing Senators to access that information and alleviate our concerns, President Obama went around the Senate and granted Ms. Aponte a recess appointment in August of 2010. For nearly a year and a half, Republicans have been continually denied access to Ms. Aponte's full FBI record and other information, as the Obama administration has rebuffed our requests related to Ms. Aponte's past.
Shortly after Ms. Aponte was first nominated by
President Obama, I, along with four other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for her assistance in obtaining this information. That same month, all eight Republican members of the committee wrote to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry stating that committee members had not received requested information needed to fully vet the nominee.
Let me remind everyone that we never received that information. Ms. Aponte was recess-appointed by the Obama administration later that summer. We have continued our efforts to work with the administration to get access to this information. Chairman Kerry was able to convince the White House to allow me to see a summary of the diplomatic security background investigation; however, that summary did not address the fundamental questions that have arisen, and that summary left me with more questions than answers.
Committee Republicans wrote another letter to Chairman Kerry about our concerns last month. In the letter, we said:
We recognize the need to balance highly sensitive materials during the confirmation process. However, we believe that in this particular case, the scope of the background review was not appropriately complete.
We went on to say:
The background summary that was provided was based on an updated investigation, but it did not encompass numerous allegations that the initial background investigation in 1998 was tainted by political interference. News reports and other sources alleged that Ms. Aponte received security clearance despite objections from career officials due to outside pressure. However, these allegations and the circumstances surrounding them were not part of the current background investigation. Without additional information, Senators have no way of determining the validity of media stories and rumors that have been circulating about this nominee's past.
We also asked for a closed hearing due to these lingering issues. We wrote:
We believe that the circumstances warrant additional committee review in the form of a closed hearing. A closed hearing would allow Senators to review and discuss the classified and sensitive data relevant to the nomination and discuss the unresolved issues with investigators and relevant intelligence community officials. As the issue involved both a high-ranking Cuban defector and FBI counterintelligence investigations, a closed hearing would be the most beneficial format available to the committee to rectify the deficiency of information provided.
Senator Kerry declined to hold a closed briefing and wrote a letter back stating:
In my view the process we have followed with regard to Ms. Aponte's nomination has afforded committee members ample time and opportunity to consider her nomination and secure answers to any relevant questions.
He also said:
We should all be in a position now to debate Ms. Aponte's nomination on its merits.
Senator Kerry then offered to work with my office further to get answers from the administration. I believe he did work in good faith with our office, but in the end the White House once again denied our requests for information.
While I would agree with Senator Kerry that there has been ample time spent on Ms. Aponte's nomination, we still lack critical information. The Senate cannot in good faith confirm a nominee who has repeatedly refused to answer simple necessary questions related to her past.
In addition to questions about her past, Ms. Aponte's current judgment is also in question. In her recess-appointed capacity as Ambassador to El Salvador, Ms. Aponte has inflamed tensions in the very country where she should be improving diplomatic relations. Her decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job. This op-ed upset a large number of community and pro-life groups in El Salvador who were insulted by Ms. Aponte's rhetoric.
A coalition of more than three dozen groups has since written the Senate asking its Members to oppose Ms. Aponte's confirmation. I quote from their letter, in which they wrote:
We respectfully request that Ms. Aponte be removed from post as soon as possible so that El Salvador may enjoy the benefits of having a person as a government representative of your noble country.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are still trying to get access to information about Ms. Aponte's past. Two days ago, the White House again denied Senators the right to be briefed or review information relevant to this nomination.
Senators should not be forced to vote on a nominee without a complete understanding of her background. I urge you to join us in voting against cloture.
Mr. President, I reserve the remainder of the Republican time. How much time remains?
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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, all of us regret when there is a situation where one of us has to oppose a nomination of a President, and 1,198 nominations have gone through without being contested. But this is one that rises to the level of concern.
Republicans have been asking questions about this nominee for months--in fact, much longer than that--going back to why she refused to take a lie detector test, why she withdrew her name when she was first nominated for ambassador under Clinton, and why the files have not been properly updated. We have asked the White House for private meetings with the FBI and CIA to give us updated knowledge of what happened in this circumstance so we can make a good decision. But there was never an offer to do that. We had offers of low-level folks to come talk only to me, not to Republicans on the committee. But there are enough questions here for honest answers, and we have not gotten them.
I encourage my colleagues to vote against this nomination.
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