Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is being accused of political indiscretion — and it has nothing to do with the failed federal gun-walking operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
Four GOP congressmen argue the DOJ struck a backdoor deal with city officials in St. Paul, Minn., to “withdraw a housing discrimination case before the Supreme Court in exchange for Justice declining to intervene in an unrelated False Claims Act case against the city,” the Washington Post reports.
In a letter to Holder, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Reps Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) accuse the Department of Justice of making the deal with St. Paul city officials in February. The lawmakers said they learned about the purported deal during a private briefing with DOJ officials.
“We were shocked to learn during this briefing and in subsequent document examination that Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, over the objections of career Justice Department attorneys, enticed the city to drop its lawsuit that Mr. Perez did not want decided by the Supreme Court,” the letter reads.
DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement that the “resolution reached in these cases was in the best interests of the United States and consistent with the Department’s practice in reaching global settlements.”
She went on to call the decision “appropriate” and said the call was made after “an examination of the relevant facts, law and policy considerations at issue.”
The Washington Post has more details on the case:
St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing said that the primary reason that the city dismissed its petition to the Supreme Court in Magner v. Gallagher was “to preserve 40 years of civil rights law.”
But Grewing also said that the Justice Department’s decision not to intervene in two lawsuits against the city was a factor. “When the city dismissed the Magner petition, the Department of Justice declined to intervene — and thus not oppose the city — in those two lawsuits,” she said in a statement.
Grewing added that the secondary reason for dismissing the petition on the eve of oral arguments was “to avoid conflict with the federal government in two pending lawsuits against the city that the city considered to be without merit.”
Justice’s decision not to be involved did not end the two lawsuits. One of them was brought by a businessman charging that St. Paul had falsely certified that it was using federal money to create jobs for low-income workers of all races when it was focused only on employing minorities.
In early October 2011, career lawyers from the Justice’s fraud section recommended that the federal government join the lawsuit, characterizing the city’s behavior as a “particularly egregious example” of false certifications, according to congressional investigators.
But the way the GOP congressmen see it, Perez “bargained away a valid case of fraud against American taxpayers” to convince city officials to drop its civil rights case appeal because he didn’t want it decided by the Supreme Court, according to their letter.
“Perez could not be reached to comment, but a DOJ official said St. Paul officials raised a separate housing-related case with Perez when he was discussing the department’s concerns about the possible consequences of the Supreme Court case,” according to WaPo.
The same Justice official said Perez met with the DOJ’s ethics officials about the matter but he was told there were no issues with the businessman’s lawsuit.