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Public Statements

Nomination of Thomas Edward Perez to be Secretary of Labor

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, earlier today my colleague Senator Rubio came to the floor to talk about the very serious matter of the nomination of Thomas Perez that will be before us. Senator Rubio specifically addressed Mr. Perez's refusal to comply with a bipartisan congressional subpoena into the investigation of his orchestration of a controversial quid pro quo with the City of St. Paul in a very important legal matter. Senator Rubio talked about that ably and eloquently, and it is a very serious matter.

I was in the Department of Justice for a number of years. I am very uneasy about the way that matter was done. I don't believe that is normal business at all.

In the course of his tenure, Mr. Perez has identified approximately 1,200 personal e-mails that were related to his official duties and are responsive to the subpoena from the House, some of which reportedly disclosed nonpublic information about publicly traded companies. Yet he still refuses to turn them over to Congress despite what appears to be a clear obligation to do so. The failure to comply with a subpoena is a very serious matter.

First, he wants to go for the Department of Justice, which issues subpoenas all the time and demands that people comply with them. It doesn't matter if the subpoena is issued to a poor person or small business, they are expected to comply with the subpoena. Congress has the ability to issue subpoenas. A member of the Department of Justice ought to respond to those subpoenas. In my opinion, he has a high duty to respond to them.

I believe the Senate was incorrect in allowing his nomination to go forward to a full vote when we have not gotten the information. The failure to vote for cloture and moving to a vote on a nomination is not a rejection of a nomination. Fundamentally, it is a statement to say we are not ready to vote on it yet. We are not ready to have this matter before us because we need more information. He is not answering a subpoena issued to him by the House of Representatives.

I will not talk about that anymore, but I think it is a big deal. This is not the first problem Mr. Perez has had in abusing the legal process. Frankly, I wish to share some thoughts about other issues. I hate to do this. I was concerned about the nomination when he came forward.

Senator Tom Coburn and I met with Mr. Perez at some length, and I came away uneasy about it. I had a feeling his ideological political agenda was so strong and his legal commitment was not strong enough. I was concerned he would use this position in the Department of Justice to advance an agenda rather than enforce the law. I am afraid that is what has happened.

Many of my colleagues will recall that on election day in 2008 three members of the New Black Panther Party stood at the entrance of a polling station in Philadelphia brandishing nightsticks and threatening voters. What more intimidation can you have than that at the voting place? They wore military-style uniforms, combat boots, battle dress pants, military-style insignia, and used racial slurs and insults to scare away would-be voters.

One of the men was Jerry Jackson, a member of Philadelphia's 14th Ward Democratic Committee and credentialed poll watcher for the Democratic Party on election day. This is not acceptable. This is clearly voter intimidation, dramatic voter intimidation.

A video of the incident was widely distributed on the Internet, made national news and headlines. The Justice Department, under the Bush administration, secured an affidavit from Bartle Bull, a long-time civil rights activist and a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy in his 1968 Presidential campaign. Mr. Bull called the conduct ``an outrageous affront to American democracy and the rights of voters to participate in an election without fear.''

None of the defendants in the case even filed a response to the complaint against him or appeared in the Federal district court in Philadelphia to answer the lawsuit. Maybe they didn't feel like they had a defense. It appeared almost certain that the Justice Department would have prevailed in their case.

According to a May 2009 article in the Washington Times, the Justice Department had been working on the case for months and had already secured a default judgment against the defendants by April 20, 2009--3 months after President Obama took office. However, President Obama's political appointee, Mr. Thomas Perrelli, then acting head of the Civil Rights Division, overruled career prosecutors and voluntarily dismissed the charges against two of the men with no penalty. He obtained an order against the third member that merely prohibited him from bringing a weapon to the polling place in future elections, which was already against the law. What a sad end of that case, and to me it is unthinkable.

In a 2009 memo, career Appellate Chief Diana K. Flynn wrote that the Justice Department could have made a ``reasonable argument in favor of default relief against all defendants, and probably should.'' That is what the career attorney said about the matter.

The Justice Department's highly unusual dismissal of the case of dramatic voter intimidation was the subject of a year-long investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This is an independent commission that is set up by our government and has appointees from both parties and they are focused on ensuring that civil rights are protected. They were trying to examine how it was this case was handled in this fashion.

On April 1, 2010, Chairman Gerald Reynolds sent a letter to Attorney General Holder asking whether the Department of Justice would fully cooperate with the Civil Rights Commission's investigation and allow two Department attorneys to testify in their investigation. The letter also pointed out that the Department failed to turn over requested documents. The Commission asked for requested documents. They have a right to do that.

According to Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, in total, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice refused to answer 18 separate interrogatories, refused to provide witness statements for 12 key witnesses, refused to respond to 22 requests for production of documents, and refused to produce a privilege log. This happened in spite of the fact that the Justice Department has a statutory obligation to fully comply with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and their investigations. Does the Department of Justice think they are above the law?

I spent 15 years in the Department of Justice. I loved the Department of Justice. I never saw some of the things that have happened in recent years. I believe the public needs to know more about it. I will try not to be too critical of Attorney General Holder, but I am concerned about this.

Later, two attorneys from the Department of Justice defied the Department and actually agreed to testify against the Department's recommendation before the Commission on Civil Rights at considerable risk to their careers--J. Christian Adams and Christopher Coates. Mr. Coates was the former chief of the voting rights section. Mr. Adams and Mr. Coates stated that political appointees declined to prosecute the New Black Panther case because they were interested only in civil rights cases that involved equality for racial and ethnic minorities and would not prosecute civil rights cases in a race-neutral way.

Adams called the actions in the New Black Panther case--this is what the attorney at the Department of Justice said about the case--``the simplest and most obvious violation of federal law'' that he had ever seen in his career at the Justice Department. He resigned as a result of the dismissal of the obviously justified case.

In his sworn testimony before the Commission, Mr. Perez unequivocally denied the allegations. Commissioner Peter Kirsanow asked him:

Was there any political leadership involved in the decision not to pursue this particular case any further than it was?

The answer by Mr. Perez:

No. The decisions were made by [Justice Department career attorneys] Loretta King in consultation with Steve Rosenbaum who is the acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

In a recent letter to Members of the Senate regarding Mr. Perez's nomination, Commissioner Kirsanow stated

Mr. Perez's testimony ``should be a tremendous concern to all Senators regardless of party.'' Indeed it should.

In fact, it was not until a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch that the Justice Department finally produced a privileged log identifying more than 50 e-mails between high-level Justice Department political appointees and career attorneys regarding the government's ``decision-making process'' in this case, all around the time the Department's otherwise bewildering decision to drop a case it had already won by default.

Judge Reggie Walton, an African-American Federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stated in his opinion that the internal documents ``appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez's testimony that political leadership was not involved.''

Let me repeat that. This is a Federal judge in the District of Columbia who said the internal documents ``appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez's testimony that political leadership was not involved.'' Indeed it does. We have a Federal judge finding this in his opinion.

Judge Walton further said, ``Surely the public has an interest in documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of government officials.'' He was referring to the fact that they weren't producing documents and that they ought to--the public was entitled to have documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of the testimony of government officials, and, he says, ``representations regarding the possible politicalization of the agency decision-making.''

Mr. Walton himself at one time was in the Department of Justice. I am sure he had to have an opinion of the Department of Justice. He is not trying to abuse them. He is just saying Department of Justice officials have an obligation to tell the truth, and if they don't, they ought to be found out.

The handling of the case was so extraordinary that the Justice Department's inspector general, appointed by President Obama, initiated an investigation of the matter. The inspector general's report confirmed testimony of Mr. Adams and Mr. Coates and, importantly, it concluded this:

Perez's testimony did not reflect the entire story regarding the involvement of political appointees in the [New Black Panther Party] decisionmaking. In particular, Perez's characterizations omitted that [political appointees] Associate Attorney General Perrelli and Deputy Associate Attorney General Hirsch were involved in consultations about the decision as shown in testimony and contemporaneous e-mails. Specifically, they set clear outer limits on what [career attorneys] could decide on the ..... matter, (including prohibiting them from dismissing a case in its entirety) without seeking additional approval from the Office of the Associate Attorney General.

So the Department's own inspector general looked at the matter and concluded Mr. Perez's testimony that the political appointees didn't have anything to do with it--it was all career attorneys who decided on the merits not to prosecute this case--was not accurate. And he went on to explain why. This isn't a House committee having a hearing on it; this is the inspector general of the Department of Justice, the inspector general basically appointed by President Obama and selected by the Attorney General himself.

Basically, the political appointees put a fence around the case and said you can't take any real action on it until we get our approval.

Continuing to quote:

In his ..... interview, Perez said he did not believe that these incidents constituted political appointees being ``involved'' in the decision.

Give me a break.

We believe these facts evidence ``involvement'' in--

Well, let me go back and get this precisely correct. This was the inspector general's report. The inspector general found:

In his interview ..... Perez said he did not believe that these incidents constituted political appointees being ``involved'' in the decision. We believe these facts evidence ``involvement'' in the decision by political appointees within the ordinary meaning of that word, and that Perez's acknowledgment, in his statements on behalf of the Department, that political appointees were briefed on and could have overruled this decision did not capture the full extent of that involvement.

That is what the inspector general said. To me, that sounds like a bureaucratic way of saying Mr. Perez did not tell the truth to the inspector general during the course of an official investigation of his conduct. So now we are going to promote him. Apparently, that is what goes on around here.

True, the original decision to dismiss the case predated Mr. Perez's appointment to the Civil Rights Division. He was not there at that time. That is true. But instead of reinstating the case--which would have been the correct decision--he became directly involved in and managed--according to the inspector general--what was, in fact, a coverup of the processes that occurred. That in and of itself should disqualify him for this position.

This is not good, to be found by your own inspector general in the U.S. Department of Justice to not respond truthfully; to have a Federal judge find that; to have their own inspector general find that. We are far too blase about high officials in this government not telling the truth. He should not be rewarded with a promotion for his work protecting political appointees in the Department of Justice.

The inspector general's report also confirmed Mr. Perez has overseen most of the unprecedented racial polarization and politicalization of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. There has been a lot of turmoil there over the disagreement about what is the right thing to do. There has been a consistent theme of his, which is to advance certain political and ideological agendas, it seems to me. I will explain what I mean. I want to be fair to him, but I am not--I have been around a lot of litigation for a long time and I am not comfortable with his actions.

He has sued States for implementing voter identification laws--sued the States for that which has been rejected by Federal courts--to intimidate them and stop them from saying you have to have an identification of some kind before you are allowed to waltz in and say you are John Jones and you are entitled to vote. What if you are not John Jones? States have passed laws such as that and the Federal court has rejected his view, including a three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, including Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who was a Clinton appointee.

Mr. Perez's arguments have been rebuked by courts in Arkansas about the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act; in New York in an education case, U.S. v. Brennan; in a Florida case where Perez's team was abusively prosecuting peaceful pro-life protesters; and in a major loss in court in Florida when he was trying to force the State not to remove noncitizens from the voter rolls. Apparently, Florida, in his mind, was violating civil rights by saying nonvoters--noncitizens--shouldn't be on the voting rolls.

Is this who is running the Department of Justice? Is this the philosophy they are having in Washington?

The Department has filed and is considering lawsuits against a growing list of States that have enacted immigration legislation, including Alabama, Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. Although Mr. Perez was not involved in the Department's lawsuit against Alabama--my State--he has issued threats and engaged in intimidating tactics against Alabama law enforcement officials who reported to me shock at the nature of those events.

For example, he took the unprecedented action of creating a toll-free hotline for people to report allegations of discrimination due to Alabama's immigration law, although the Attorney General of Alabama said he will prosecute anybody who violates people's right to vote. Also, Mr. Strange said, tell me who has made complaints, that you say have made complaints, about not being treated fairly and I will investigate it. Mr. Perez said there were bullying and harassment complaints out there, but when asked to produce some of them he refused to provide the information. Alabama officials have been questioned whether reports of complaints were, in fact, true. They won't say what they are.

In October of 2011, Mr. Perez sent a letter to the superintendent of every school district in Alabama requesting the names of all students who had withdrawn from school and the date, without any apparent authority to do so. He just wanted to snoop into that, I guess.

In December of 2011, he sent a letter to all Alabama sheriffs and police departments that receive Federal funds--many of them through the Department of Justice where he was--warning them, I think without basis, not to infringe on constitutional rights in enforcing Alabama's immigration law. There is no proof anybody had violated constitutional rights in enforcing that law. Mr. Perez actually threatened to withdraw Federal funding from any of the 156 offices that implement ``the law in a manner that has the purpose or effect of discriminating against Latino or any other community.''

He also warned that the Civil Rights Division is ``loosely monitoring the impact of [the law].''

On January 20, Mr. Perez met in Tuscaloosa with Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ted Sexton and other high public safety officers in the Federal Government in Washington, and several other sheriffs around the country. Sheriff Sexton told Mr. Perez that he perceived his letter as a threat in asking whether he should expect any lawsuits against him or any other law enforcement officials. Mr. Perez wouldn't comment.

Sheriff Sexton also pressed for examples of reports of discrimination in Alabama that Mr. Perez had purportedly received, but he again refused to comment or provide evidence. According to Sheriff Sexton, a sheriff from Georgia was present and asked another Justice Department representative who was present with Mr. Perez whether States such as Alabama and Georgia were ``being penalized for the sins of our grandfathers'' and the official reportedly responded, ``More than likely.''

I received a letter from Sheriff Huey Mack of Baldwin County, a fine sheriff who responded after 9/11 in New York and did forensic work there, and Sheriff Mack states in opposition to this nomination:

Following the issuance of this letter, several law enforcement officers met with Mr. Perez in Mobile, Alabama ..... During this meeting, Mr. Perez made several false allegations relating to law enforcement's handling of Alabama's Immigration Law. This continued for a short period of time during which it became evident Mr. Perez was not interested in the truth, but wanted to rely strictly upon his biased and preconceived notions regarding the State of Alabama. Mr. Perez should not be confirmed to any cabinet level post. In my opinion, Mr. Perez should be relieved of all of his duties as it relates to the U.S. Federal Government and seek employment outside of serving the citizens of this Nation.

Well, I wasn't there, but I know Sheriff Mack and something was wrong for him to write such a strong letter.

Sheriff Sexton was in another meeting that he was referring to, a very able sheriff.

When Mr. Perez was nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division, I had serious concerns about whether he would work to protect the civil rights of all Americans regardless of race, and whether he would ensure that the division remained free from partisanship and not be used as a tool to further an agenda or some ideology.

These concerns had a basis in fact from looking at his prior record. That was the concern I had. When he ran for the Montgomery County, MD, council, he responded to a question asking ``What would you like the voters to know about?'' with: ``I am a progressive Democrat and always was and always will be.'' Well, that is OK. But when you get to be in the Department of Justice, you have to put that aside. So I asked him about that in our meetings.

In an April 3, 2005, Washington Post article, he was described as ``about as liberal as Democrats get.'' Well, there is nothing wrong with that. But you have to be able to put it aside if you are going to serve in the U.S. Department of Justice.

As a councilman, he expressed disdain for Republicans, at one point giving ``a 5-minute speech about how some conservative Republicans do not care about the poor.'' Well, that is his opinion, but it should not affect his duties as an official in the Department of Justice.

From 1995 to 2002, while employed as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division, he served on the board of CASA de Maryland. He later became president of that organization. CASA--which is actually an acronym for Central American Solidarity Association--is an advocacy organization with some extreme views, funded in part by George Soros, that opposes enforcement of immigration laws. They are just flat out there active about it.

In the Department of Justice, you need somebody who favors enforcing the law, not not enforcing the law. What are the prosecutors supposed to do in the Department of Justice? Undermine law or enforce law? When I was in the Department of Justice, we understood our job was to enforce the law, not make it.

For example, this CASA de Maryland group issued a pamphlet encouraging illegal aliens not to speak to police officers or immigration agents. It promoted day labor sites. That is where illegal workers go out and get jobs. So they promoted that. It fought restrictions on illegal immigrants receiving driver's licenses. And it supported in-State tuition for illegal immigrants. This is the organization he was president of.

I talked to him about that, and I was not convinced that he could set that aside when he became an official in the Department of Justice who would be required to enforce those kinds of laws passed by the Congress and the States.

Mr. Perez has spoken in favor of measures that would assist illegal aliens in skirting immigration laws. While a councilman in 2003, he supported the use of the matricula consular ID cards issued by Mexico and Guatemala as a valid form of identification for local residents who worked and used government services, without having any U.S.-issued documents to prove they are lawfully here. Notably, no major bank in Mexico accepts these identification documents. They are not a valid identification document.

Unfortunately, my initial concerns about Mr. Perez's nomination have been confirmed, I hate to say. I do not feel like--and I have to say I do not doubt--that he will continue, if confirmed as the Secretary of Labor, to do all that he can within his power to hamstring the enforcement of immigration laws and to advance his political agenda. That is what his background is, that is what he has done, as I have documented here.

His misleading testimony before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, as Mr. Kirsanow pointed out--the veracity of which was questioned by a U.S. Federal judge here in the District of Columbia--his false statements to the inspector general of the Department of Justice--who wrote about it in his analysis and report on the incident--his refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena by the House of Representatives, and, really, his abysmal record at the Department of Justice disqualifies him, in my view, for this position.

Frankly, we should not have closed debate on his nomination and moved it forward until we got the information that is out there. What if this information is produced next month and it is very incriminating or unacceptable? Are we then going to ask him to quit? That is not the way you should do business here. We have hearings. We ask questions of nominees. If they do not answer questions, normally they do not move to the floor for confirmation.

I think this is a legitimate concern that the American people ought to know about. I believe the American people have a right to know all the information about Mr. Perez's tenure in office, the criticisms of a very serious nature that he has received, and the fact that he seems to have a strong bent toward allowing his own ideological and political views to affect his decisionmaking process--all of which is unacceptable for a high position in this government of the United States of America.

I appreciate the Chair's indulgence and yield the floor.


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