The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has become political fodder this week, as Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the head of the division, has his confirmation hearing to be the leader of the U.S. Labor Department.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are launching political attacks. On Monday, three members of Congress released a 65-page report on their investigation into Perez's involvement in a "secret deal" to settle a whistle-blower case in Minnesota, which they said was essentially an inappropriate exchange for dropping a U.S. Supreme Court appeal in an unrelated case.
The title of the report: "Department of Justice's (DOJ) Quid Pro Quo with St. Paul: How Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez Manipulated Justice and Ignored the Rule of Law."
Then on Tuesday morning, the House Judiciary Committee spent several hours spotlighting the deep polarization and mistrust found among lawyers at the division in last month’s report by the Inspector General. The title of that hearing: "Mismanagement at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice."
Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) displayed a DOJ lawyer's Facebook post on the wall of the Capitol Hill hearing room, one of several examples he used to illustrate Perez’s "questionable management practices." The post by Dan Freeman said that he "started the crowd booing when Paul Ryan came out" at the Presidential Inauguration in January, something for which he was never disciplined, Goodlatte said.
"One overarching question leaps from this report: with this sort of palpable dysfunction at the division, what if anything has Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez done to remedy it?" Goodlatte said. "With this nomination by President Obama to be the next Secretary of Labor, the American people deserve to know whether Mr. Perez is capable of properly managing a government agency."
Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) questioned whether Perez committed perjury when previously testifying before the judiciary committee. Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of the congressmen who released the report on the Minnesota case, asked if it could be considered bribery.
Democrats said the title of the hearing was unnecessarily provocative and the timing – two days before Perez’s confirmation hearing Thursday in the Senate – were less about oversight of the Justice Department and more about tarnishing Perez’s reputation. They released their own report: "Top Ten Errors, Mischaracterizations and Omissions in Partisan Republican Staff Report on Tom Perez."
Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the judiciary committee, said the mismanagement and dysfunction was from 2003 to 2007, under the Bush administration. And Conyers said that Perez has made improvements in the division.
"In this case, the misleading title is meant to obscure the facts," Conyers said. "And it’s intended to harm the reputation of a champion for civil rights and a decent public servant."
The 258-page Office of the Inspector General report, released March 12, didn't find evidence that lawyers in the Voting Section based enforcement decisions on race or partisan leanings. The section's lawyers examine a variety of issues, including redistricting cases and disputes over voter identification measures. A copy of the report is here.
Perez will have a confirmation hearing Thursday at 10 a.m. before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.