GOP ramps up criticism of Perez

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans, including Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, stepped up their criticism of Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez on Tuesday, amplifying their concerns a day before the former state official faces a Senate committee vote on his confirmation.

Republicans convened a joint hearing of two House subcommittees to focus on a federal case Perez oversaw as assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Other lawmakers, including Harris, are pressing Perez to turn over his personal e-mails.

The 51-year-old Takoma Park resident, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in March, is the former head of the state Labor Department and briefly ran for Maryland attorney general in 2006. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to vote on his nomination to lead the U.S. Labor Department on Wednesday.

Republicans used the hearing to highlight a case in which the Justice Department agreed to back out of a lawsuit filed against the city of St. Paul, Minn., if city leaders dropped a separate case Perez was concerned could have resulted in an adverse Supreme Court ruling. Republicans say federal taxpayers could have recovered $200 million in misspent funds if the Justice Department had pursued the case.

"The department's actions -- and specifically those of Mr. Perez in orchestrating this deal -- are to the detriment of the American taxpayers, whistle blowers, and the department," Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has been among the most vocal critics of Perez, said in testimony.

Perez and Democrats counter that the money would have been recovered only if the government had won the lawsuit and they have argued that career attorneys in the department deemed that outcome a long shot. Perez has also said he cleared the decision to drop the case with ethics officials at the Justice Department and the head of the Civil Division.

"The problem with the Republican theory is that Mr. Perez did nothing wrong," said Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

Separately, Harris released a letter Tuesday written to Attorney General Eric Holder in which he said Perez had not complied with a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee for personal e-mails. Harris had questioned Holder about the documents at a hearing in mid-April. At the time, Holder said the information had been provided.

"Mr. Perez has not produced any e-mails," read the letter, which is dated  April 26. "In light of this information, we expect you will be clarifying your testimony to the subcommittee."

The letter was also signed by Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican. Republicans want to see the e-mails because they say Perez conducted official business on the personal account.

Perez is expected to win approval from the Senate committee Wednesday. The question is whether or not Republicans will unanimously oppose him and what the vote might signal about his chances of being confirmed on the Senate floor.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter has threatened to put a hold on Perez's confirmation. If he does, Democrats would need 60 votes to move the confirmation forward.

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