The Senate confirmed Tony West as associate attorney general in a 98-1 vote on Thursday, making permanent his position as third-in-command at the U.S. Department of Justice.
West, who led the DOJ's Civil Division before being named acting associate attorney general in February 2012, easily navigated through his confirmation hearing in part because of the government's record-breaking use of the False Claims Act. Republicans had not called into question West's qualifications, but they had held up his nomination as part of a broader controversy over the government's handling of a federal whistleblower case in St. Paul, Minn.
Before the vote, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said West in the St. Paul case did not stand up against former DOJ attorney Tom Perez, then the head of the Civil Rights Division. Republicans accused Perez, confirmed as Labor secretary last week, of orchestrating an improper quid pro quo arrangement—walking away from a potentially significant whistleblower recovery in exchange to protect a legal theory, used in discrimination cases, from being reviewed at the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Notwithstanding these concerns, I'm willing to give Mr. West the benefit of the doubt and vote for his nomination," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "Part of the reason I'm willing to do so is because the Civil Division under Mr. West's leadership has established a respectable record in utilizing the tools available under the False Claims Act amendments that I got passed in 1986 and that have brought back into the treasury just under $40 billion."
West was a Morrison & Foerster partner when he took over the leadership of the Civil Division, the largest litigation division at Main Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder chose West to take over after then-Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli returned to Jenner & Block.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. released a statement praising West's work with the department since his return there in 2009.
"As a key member of the department's senior management team, he has led with integrity, acting always in the best interests of the American people and in accordance with the finest traditions of public service," Holder said.
"I applaud his confirmation by the U.S. Senate today, and look forward to continuing to work with him as Associate Attorney General – a role in which he has excelled, in an acting capacity, for more than a year."