After the EunuchBomber attack fizzled on Christmas Day, both Republicans and Democrats wasted no time in pointing fingers, primarily battling over the Department of Homeland Security, even though DHS had little if anything to do with the security issues involved in that attempt. Republicans called for the resignation of Janet Napolitano after her ridiculous insistence two days later that “the system worked.” Democrats blamed the attack on Senator Jim DeMint for placing a hold on Barack Obama’s nominee to head TSA, Erroll Southers, even though Obama hadn’t even bothered to nominate Southers until late September, and TSA had nothing to do with the decision to allow Umar Abdulmutallab onto the Northwest flight he attempted to destroy.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that DeMint may have done everyone a favor anyway. According to documents obtained by reporter Robert O’Harrow, Southers misled Congress about an incident in which he violated privacy laws to investigate his wife’s lover:
The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by The Washington Post show.
The disclosure comes as pressure builds from Democrats on Capitol Hill for quick January confirmation of Erroll Southers, whose nomination has been held up by GOP opponents. In the aftermath of an attempted airline bombing on Christmas Day, calls have intensified for lawmakers to install permanent leadership at the TSA, a critical agency in enforcing airline security.
Southers, a former FBI agent, has described inconsistencies in his accounts to Congress as “inadvertent” and the result of poor memory of an incident that dates back 20 years. He said in a Nov. 20 letter to key senators obtained by The Post that he had accepted full responsibility long ago for a “grave error in judgment” in accessing confidential criminal records about his then-estranged wife’s new boyfriend.
When testifying to Congress, Southers said that it had only happened once, when he asked a friend to check out the man’s criminal background at the San Diego PD. After his testimony, Southers wrote to Joe Lieberman and admitted that he had himself twice checked the database. He also copied the records and handed them off to his friend at the SDPD, apparently hoping to have the wife’s lover harrassed.
There are two problems with this, both of them serious. First, TSA has access to serious, sensitive information that is far more open to abuse than the records at the SDPD. Putting Southers in charge of that would be akin to putting a tax evader in charge of the IRS (or Treasury, for that matter). Second, if Southers cannot give honest testimony the first time in front of Congress about an incident from twenty years ago, what confidence can we have that Southers will tell the truth when things go wrong at TSA under his watch?
Obama needs to find another nominee for TSA, and fast. DeMint needs to maintain his hold on Southers until the White House replaces him.