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Republicans issue scathing report on labor secretary nominee

WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers are trying to undermine the nomination of Buffalo native Thomas E. Perez as labor secretary, issuing a scathing report accusing him of mishandling a key case while serving as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

In the 63-page report, which was released late Sunday, top GOP lawmakers from both the House and Senate say Perez abused his authority by striking a deal in which the City of St. Paul, Minn., agreed to withdraw a housing-discrimination case that it could have appealed to the Supreme Court.

In return for that agreement, the Justice Department vowed not to join two whistle-blower cases against St. Paul that could have saved $200 million for U.S. taxpayers, the report alleged.

“The quid pro quo demonstrated that the Department of Justice, led by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, placed ideology over objectivity and politics over the rule of law,” the report said.

The report set the stage for what’s likely to be a contentious hearing on Perez’s confirmation before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Health Committee on Thursday.

Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, issued the report along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Rep. Darrell E. Issa of California, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Top Democrats on the House Oversight and Judiciary committees issued their own report on the St. Paul matter, saying Perez “acted professionally to advance the interests of civil rights and effectively combat the scourge of housing discrimination.”

The Justice Department defended Perez, as well.

“The litigation decisions made by the department were in the best interests of the United States and were consistent with the department’s legal, ethical and professional responsibility obligations,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Perez told the Republican investigators that he wanted St. Paul to drop the housing-discrimination case because an adverse decision by the Supreme Court could make it more difficult for the Justice Department to pursue such cases in the future.

But career attorneys at the Justice Department were frustrated with Perez’s deal with St. Paul, calling it “ridiculous” and citing its “weirdness,” the Republican report said.

And taxpayers should be concerned, the GOP report said, because the U.S. government could have collected upward of $200 million if it had joined the whistle-blower cases Perez agreed to drop. That’s because the federal government is entitled to part of the proceeds of successful litigation that it joined.

But the Democrats who responded – Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan – said Perez was merely protecting the government’s interests by helping scuttle a housing-discrimination suit that could have had broad and bad implications.

“Instead of identifying inappropriate conduct by Mr. Perez, it appears that the accusations against him are part of a broader political campaign to undermine the legal safeguards against discrimination that Mr. Perez was protecting,” the Democratic report said.

The St. Paul case is expected to be a central focus of Thursday’s confirmation hearing on the Perez nomination, which has already drawn fire from several GOP senators who criticize his record at the Justice Department as too liberal.