President Barack Obama took advantage of the congressional break Thursday and made four recess appointments, including sending a Washington lawyer off as an ambassador 12 years after she was first nominated to go overseas.
Mari Carmen Aponte was nominated for ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, but she withdrew amid accusations that Cuban intelligence officials had tried to recruit her as a spy. The late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had planned to question her about the matter, according to reports at the time. Later, the FBI cleared Aponte for government service, The Miami Herald reported in 1999.
In December 2009, Obama nominated her again, this time for ambassador to El Salvador, and she won the backing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee four months later. But she continued to draw criticism from conservatives. They cited the earlier controversy and her work for Hispanic organizations such as the National Council of La Raza.
In appointing Aponte and three others while the Senate is away, Obama said in a statement that senators should “stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent.”
Aponte is a former member of the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, which recommends nominees for D.C. Superior Court and for U.S. attorney, and she is a former name partner at what was one of the area’s most successful minority-run law firms, Alexander, Aponte & Marks. She left the firm in 1996 to raise money for President Bill Clinton and to work in the Hispanic community. The law firm filed for bankruptcy in April 1997 and dissolved.
From 2001 to 2004, Aponte was executive director of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration, an agency of the Puerto Rican government, according to her White House biography. She is now a solo practitioner and consultant. A woman who answered the phone at Aponte’s law office in Washington said Aponte was not available for comment.
Aponte contributed $2,300 to Obama’s campaign in November 2008, after having given $1,000 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in February 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. She is not listed among Obama’s 2008 major fundraisers.
She has served on the boards of the National Council of La Raza, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the University of the District of Columbia. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor also served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF, prompting some criticism from Republicans during her confirmation process in 2009.