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“The real issue here is the GOP wants to derail a highly competent presidential nominee from getting a Cabinet position because he effectively enforced civil rights law,” he said. “This is just the politics of personal destruction.”

This isn’t Mr. Perez’s first time to be embroiled in controversy. The Justice Department section under his watch has been hampered by racially charged ideological divisions, a recent inspector general report said.

The IG report, released in March, states that Mr. Perez gave incomplete testimony 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 that the George W. Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party.

The report said Mr. Perez didn’t intentionally mislead the commission and that the department acted properly. But Mr. Grassley said the investigation suggested a troubling “politicization and polarization” of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.