Could Report Put Thomas Perez's Nomination in Jeopardy?

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez listens to the Star Spangled Banner during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Program at the Department of Justice January 11, 2011.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez listens to the Star Spangled Banner during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Program at the Department of Justice January 11, 2011.  (2011 Getty Images)

President Obama's rumored choice for labor secretary could face difficulty in the confirmation process now that a new inspector general's report says Thomas Perez gave incomplete information to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The inspector general's report, released Tuesday, said as a Justice Department official Thomas Perez did not provide a full account to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he said the department's political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party.

The report also concluded, however, that Perez did not intentionally mislead the commission.

Obama is poised to select Perez, head of the department's civil rights division, to be the next labor secretary, according to two people familiar with the deliberation process. Perez would be the only Latino nominee to a Cabinet position in Obama's second term. The resignations of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar left no Latinos in Obama's second-term Cabinet.

"We found that Perez's testimony did not reflect the entire story regarding the involvement of political appointees," said the report by the Justice Department's inspector general.

"We did not find that Perez intentionally misled the commission," said the IG. "Nevertheless, given he was testifying as a department witness before the commission, we believe that Perez should have sought more details ... about the nature and extent of the participation of political employees in the NBPP decision in advance of his testimony before the commission."

The report said Perez left out from his testimony that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and a deputy associate attorney general were involved in consultations about the decision.

Latino groups have grown increasingly frustrated over the lack of Latinos in Obama's choices for Cabinet positions in his second term.

That angst has turned to demands that he name a certain number of Latinos to high posts.

Earlier this year, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda sent the White House a list of 19 potential Latino candidates for still-open Cabinet posts, with the expectation that Obama would pick at least three Latinos for his second term.

"With the Latino community heading into the epicenter of a historic policy debate around immigration reform, and related policies, your Cabinet can ill-afford to not have the unique perspective and voice of high-level Latino members," according to the letter from the group, which represents 30 of the nation's leading civil rights organizations.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said there are no rules prohibiting political appointees from participating in such decision making and that Perez did not know about the incidents when he testified to the commission in May 2010. 

Perez had not been confirmed by the Senate at the time of the decisions on the issue in early 2009.

According to the report, the two political appointees set clear limits on what subordinates could decide on the Panther case — including barring them from dismissing it in its entirety — without seeking additional approval from Perrelli's office.

The IG's report stemmed in part from the handling of the 2008 case in which the Justice Department sued two members of the New Black Panther Party, the NBPP's national chairman and the group itself. After the change in administrations, the Justice Department asked the court to dismiss the suit against three of the four defendants.

The IG found the department acted properly.

"The decision to dismiss three of the four defendants and to seek more narrowly tailored injunctive relief against the fourth was based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case and had a reasonable basis," concluded the IG's report.

According to the report, the IG's office interviewed Perez, who told investigators he did not believe that the incidents constituted political appointees being "involved" in the decision.

The report said the IG's office believes that the facts do show "involvement" in the decision by political appointees within the ordinary meaning of that word. The IG said Perez's statements on behalf of the department — that political appointees were briefed on and could have overruled this decision — did not capture the full extent of that involvement.

Labor and civil rights groups rushed to defend Perez, seeking to bolster his standing ahead of the expected nomination for labor secretary.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said the IG's report shows "what's clear to anyone following the actions of the Department of Justice in recent years: that Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez has restored integrity to the Civil Rights Division and its Voting Section." Lynn Rhinehart, co-general counsel of the AFL-CIO, said the report confirms that Tom Perez is a strong, effective leader who restored integrity to the voting rights program at the Department of Justice."

Based on a story by The Associated Press.

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