The House Republican Leadership recently announced that incoming Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin have been assigned seats on Rep. Lamar Smith’s Judiciary Committee. Marino and Griffin, who were profiled in Right Wing Watch’s The Ten Scariest Republicans Heading to Congress, are peculiar picks for a committee which has “jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies” since both Republicans were dogged by corruption and ethics scandals prior to their successful bids for Congress.
Marino resigned from his position as a US Attorney in the wake of a brewing scandal over his ties to resort owner and convicted felon Louis DeNaples. He described DeNaples as his “close friend” and provided a reference for DeNaples when he attempted to win state approval to have slot machines at his resort.
But when Marino’s own office opened an investigation into DeNaples over his ties to organized crime, Marino’s assistants discovered the reference and the Department of Justice (DOJ) transferred the case to the US Attorney of Binghamton, NY. The DOJ later launched an investigation of Marino “for allegedly violating several department guidelines” over the “reference letter he wrote to help Louis DeNaples get a casino license,” but the investigation ended once Marino resigned.
Responding to criticism about his ties to DeNaples, Marino declared during an interview that he has evidence the DOJ gave him permission to serve as a reference. However, Boryk Krawczeniuk of The Times-Tribune found that DOJ officials never gave him permission, and Marino failed to produce his “evidence.” Krawczeniuk writes that the DOJ confirmed to multiple news outlets that Marino never sought or received such permission: “an Associated Press story, quoting an anonymous Justice Department source, said the department had ‘no record’ that Mr. Marino sought or received Justice authorization to serve as a reference for Mr. DeNaples. A Justice spokeswoman confirmed the department had no such record last week to The Citizens’ Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, which is owned by the same company as The Times-Tribune.”
Eventually, Marino backed away from his false claim that he was given permission from the DOJ, and “told the Sunbury Daily Item he never asked the Justice Department for permission to serve as a reference.”
After Marino resigned in order to end the DOJ investigations into his actions, he quickly obtained a $250,000-a-year job as “DeNaples’ in-house lawyer.” In his financial disclosure form, Marino under-reported his income and stated that his DeNaples’ salary was just $25,000 annually.
The conservative blog RedState’s Zack Oldham said of Marino’s actions: “The reality is just as bad as–if not worse than–the optics of this scandal.”
Marino’s relationship with DeNaples and his attempts to cover-up his ethics troubles were not his first encounter with ethics questions. As a District Attorney, Marino approached a judge to toss out his friend’s conviction on drug charges. After the Judge refused, the Luzeme County Citizens Voice reports that Marino “approached another judge and won the expungement, but the plan backfired when the second judge learned of the first judge’s involvement in the case.”
Despite the corruption accusations, false statements, and the DOJ investigation which plagued Marino’s legal career, House Republicans still picked him for a Judiciary Committee post. Perhaps, Marino was picked due to his staunchly anti-immigrant views, as incoming Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) intends to use the committee to push a hard line agenda that includes overturning the 14th Amendment’s of birthright citizenship. Marino opposes comprehensive immigration reform, backs Arizona’s draconian SB 1070, and was endorsed by Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which has been described as a “nativist extremist organization.” Just as Smith said that President Obama was “awfully close to a violation of [his] oath of office” as a result of his immigration policy, Marino said he would consider impeaching the President over his handling of immigration.
Like Marino, freshman Tim Griffin was forced to resign as a US Attorney and faced his own ethics questions. Griffin worked his way up through the Republican Party ranks through his work in opposition research and was known as “a protégé of Karl Rove.” He worked for the Bush presidential campaigns and has ties to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Griffin then aided efforts in the Bush White House to replace US Attorneys with partisan appointees, and then-US Attorney Paul Charlton said that Griffin “spread the rumors around the White House that Bud Cummins,” who was the US Attorney of Northeast Arkansas at the time, “was not a good U.S. attorney.”
When Cummins was fired, Griffin was appointed to take his place. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNaulty later testified that “Cummings was fired to make a place for Griffin at the urging of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers,” the former White House Counsel. Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s Chief of Staff, wrote in an email that “getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.” Former US Attorney David Iglesias, said that Tim Griffin “never should have been U.S. Attorney, he was fundamentally unqualified.”
However, Griffin resigned from his position as US Attorney when the BBC uncovered documents showing his work in “vote caging” operations in Florida while he was working for the Bush reelection campaign. Griffin tried to suppress the vote by designing and sending out “caging lists” which “were heavily weighted with minority voters including homeless individuals, students and soldiers sent overseas.”
The Arkansas Leader wrote that “The White House intended to fully consolidate the entire federal criminal justice system into its political operation” and Griffin’s “resignation or dismissal ought to be imminent.” Griffin resigned from his post as US Attorney on May 30, 2007.
Now, two former US Attorneys who resigned under the cloud of scandal will have seats on the Judiciary Committee. By selecting Marino and Griffin, the Republican leadership rewarded coveted posts to two freshmen with serious and troubling ethics questions on the committee which oversees the court system, the rule of law, and law enforcement.