Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West defended the U.S. Department of Justice's record with whistleblowers Thursday, testifying on Capitol Hill that his leadership led to the recovery of more taxpayer money than at any other time in American history.
"The fact is that whistleblowers have a friend in this Justice Department," West, nominated for third-in-command at DOJ, said at his confirmation hearing. The government, West said, recovered more than $11 billion taxpayer funds recovered during his 3½ years as the chief of the Civil Division.
"When you look at the number of whistleblower suits filed under my leadership in the civil division, it went up 50 percent," West said. "That's because whistleblowers believe they will be fairly heard by this Justice Department."
West's nomination to be associate attorney general has so far been caught up in a broader congressional controversy over the Justice Department's arrangement to not intervene in support of a whistleblower in a case in St. Paul, Minn., wounding the lawsuit's chances.
In exchange, the Justice Department wanted the city of St. Paul to drop its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unrelated suit that threatened the "disparate impact" legal theory, which is a way the government can prove discrimination in housing and other cases.
Republicans have called the arrangement an inappropriate quid pro quo, and used it as opposition to the nomination of Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez to be Labor secretary. West defended the department's actions under questioning Thursday from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the judiciary committee's ranking member.
If confirmed, West said the Justice Department would keep pursuing qui tam cases under his leadership. "We're going to keep trying to set new records every year," West said. The secret to the successful recovery was not only the strength of whistleblower laws, but "because we’re so choosy," West testified.
West easily navigated through his confirmation hearing. Grassley at one point told West: “I have no questions about your qualifications.”
West said the Justice Department "believes strongly" in the case against Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC, accused of providing false and misleading ratings and that the values it attached to the securities at issue were inflated. The Justice Department filed its argument this week to keep the lawsuit alive.