The Department of Justice is drawing Republican outrage after announcing it will circumvent bipartisan Congressional objections to buy an abandoned Illinois prison once proposed as the new home for Guantanamo Bay inmates.
Many thought the issue was put to rest after the House Appropriations Committee declined to provide funding for the project, but the DOJ found a way to bypass Congressional budget hawks by using illegal assets forfeited to the government to make the $165 million purchase.
Attorney General Eric Holder is denying, however, that Thomson Correctional Facility will be used to house relocated terrorists from Guantanamo, claiming it is simply an effort to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and create 1,000 jobs in the president's home state. Moreover, bringing inmates to Illinois from Cuba would be illegal through 2013, since President Obama signed H.R. 1540 into law prohibiting the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.
One DOJ official insisted: "This is about public safety and 50 percent overcrowding in high-security prisons." Others say this is actually the fiscally responsible thing to do, instead of building an entirely new prison.
Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin added: "At this point, the president had to intervene and do this directly. I hope people understand he's doing it for his state."
Congressional Republicans are fuming at the administration's unilateral action, and remain skeptical of the claims that Guantanamo detainees will not be transferred to the facility once a loophole is available.
Moreover, the pricey purchase is drawing calls of corruption and favoritism for the president's home state weeks before a tight election.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell summarized: "This election-eve purchase comes at the expense of delaying approved projects that are not in the president's home state."
The office Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a key lawmaker blocking funding for the purchase for roughly two years, released a statement:
Wolf, whose subcommittee funds the DOJ, denied the request for several reasons, including that it is considered an earmark by DOJ and was originally intended to house terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay.
“President Obama’s unprecedented directive to Attorney General Holder to circumvent Congress to purchase Thomson prison is deeply troubling,” Wolf said. “It directly violates the clear objection of the House Appropriations Committee and goes against the bipartisan objections of members in the House and Senate, who have noted that approving this request would allow Thomson to take precedence over previously funded prisons in Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Hampshire. Notably, it also flies in the face of concerns raised by scores of family members of 9/11 victims, who signed a letter in July objecting to the purchase of this prison.
“At an alarming $165 million, the size of this request is unprecedented..." [Emphasis added]
"9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America" also released a statement Tuesday:
...9/11 families believe this purchase is a back door effort to circumvent Congress and the will of the American people. Though Senator Dick Durbin and Attorney General Eric Holder have denied that the prison would be retrofitted to receive Guantanamo detainees, this would not be the first time the Department of Justice defied Congress in an effort to bring terrorists inside the Homeland.
Recent news that the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was led by a former Guantanamo detainee has underscored the dangerous profile of current detainees. They continue to pose a serious national security threat to the U.S., and should not be viewed as political pawns which can be moved from a safe, secure off-shore military installation to the heart of America in order to satisfy a small, left-wing political constituency. This is the same constituency that agitated for the release of prior detainees who have returned to the battlefield and who engage in anti-U.S. propaganda and terrorist recruiting....we have no confidence that the Obama administration will defer to the wishes of the American people and their elected representatives on the matter of Guantanamo.
This misappropriation of funds and flouting of Congressional authority goes to the very heart of the public’s distrust of the Obama administration and the ever-widening gap between what it says and what it does. [Emphasis added]
And Speaker John Boehner added:
“A majority of the American people and a bipartisan majority in Congress oppose bringing the terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay into the United States, yet the White House continues to take steps to move forward with its dangerous plan. The unilateral decision to purchase the Thomson Prison – even though Congress has repeatedly opposed the Obama administration’s effort to use taxpayer funds to do so – underscores the administration’s desire to move forward and bring these detainees to U.S. soil. House Republicans have kept our Pledge to America to keep the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay out the United States, and we will continue to keep our pledge. President Obama owes the American people an explanation about how importing these dangerous terrorists and giving them the same rights as U.S. citizens will make us any safer. Republicans will continue to oppose this dangerous plan.” [Emphasis added]
Attorney General Eric Holder has been under fire for years for everything from failing to prosecute the New Black Panthers for voter intimidation in 2008, to allowing guns to "walk" into the hands of Mexican drug cartels during Operation Fast and Furious. Now, congressional Republicans have another major grievance against the administration and the Justice Department.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, commented: "If the Obama Administration is willing to ignore Congress about the purchase of the Thomson prison, how are the American people expected to trust that the Administration will not ignore Congress about the transfer of terrorists into it? I pledge to continue working to keep the Obama Administration from moving dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. Homeland."