The GOP lawmakers accuse Perez of misusing his power last year to persuade the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a housing discrimination case before it could be heard by the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Justice Department agreed not to intervene in two whistleblower cases against St. Paul that could have won up to $200 million for taxpayers. [...]Luckily, Adam Serwer did a complete explainer on this issue so that when Republicans tried to make it sound all sinister, we'd know what was actually going on. It's like this: slumlords in St. Paul mounted a court case claiming that enforcement of the housing code was in violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. To which you most likely say: Huh? The slumlords' contention was that enforcing the housing code on them would put them out of business, which would amount to discrimination against minorities because they would lose their (rat-infested, unsafe) housing. When that argument prevailed in federal court, St. Paul appealed to the Supreme Court, raising concerns that the Roberts Court would use the case to undermine civil rights law. So Tom Perez struck a deal. Under the deal, proposed by St. Paul, not by Perez, the city withdrew the housing case in exchange for the Justice Department staying out of another case.
But Republicans say the deal was dubious, that Perez misled senior officials about his intentions, and that he tried to cover up the true reason for his decision not to intervene in the whistleblower cases.
That's the background. The key is whether Perez handled this in aboveboard fashion. Did he mislead senior officials? Did he try to cover up what was going on here? Serwer:
Shortly after a December 2011 meeting with St. Paul officials, according to a response sent by the Department of Justice to Republican legislators, Perez consulted with the ethics officer in the civil rights division to ensure that the deal, if made, wouldn't violate any conflict-of-interest rules. Next, Perez asked the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office whether the deal would be kosher. Perez was told that it was okay, as long as the person at the head of the department's civil division, which has authority over False Claims Act cases, blessed the arrangement.That's the set of actions Republicans would have you believe were a sneaky cover-up of an ethically dubious deal. Asking the ethics officer, the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, and getting sign-off from the head of the civil division based on the recommendation of the False Claims Act expert. Boy, Perez sure does like to take shortcuts, doesn't he? In reality, as opposed to in the Republican portrayal of Perez, the fact that Perez is so careful about dotting his I's and crossing his T's is one of the reasons Republicans are so worked up about him. The fact that he's doing all that dotting and crossing in service of poor and vulnerable people is another big reason they hate him. And, of course, the fact that he's an Obama nominee is reason enough in their book.
According to the Department of Justice, the lead expert on the False Claims Act in the civil division, a career attorney named Michael Hertz, later recommended against joining the Newell case, even though federal attorneys in Minnesota had originally wanted to intervene. Tony West, then the head of the civil division, signed the memo declining to get involved in the Newell case, which noted the deal with St. Paul.