Jeh Johnson defends Marrone hire, admits not reading background check

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that he never read the background security check for his top staffer, telling lawmakers he based his hiring of chief of staff Christian Marrone solely on their time together at the Defense Department.

Mr. Johnson was pressed repeatedly by a key Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, about Mr. Marrone’s past as an aide to a Pennsylvania state senator convicted on corruption charges.

The Washington Times previously reported on Mr. Marrone’s background, including that he admitted in court to collecting a taxpayer salary while supervising the senator’s private home renovations, hiring a private eye to dig up dirt on a political rival and serving as president of a company that used nonprofit urban revitalization money for a for-profit venture.

Mr. Johnson said Mr. Marrone’s background check did identify his dealings with fallen Sen. Vincent Fumo but that he didn’t read the information. Instead, he defended the hiring based on Mr. Marrone’s subsequent work at the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department.

Mr. Marrone impressed me while we worked together at DOD for his administrative organizational skills, his ability to put together a budget process and his ability to identify inefficiencies,” Mr. Johnson said in his first public testimony on the issue. “I hired him at DHS to do the same there. He’s doing an excellent job.”

Mr. Johnson said he was “generally aware” of Mr. Marrone’s testimony in the 2008 Fumo trial but that it “concerned events 12 to 17 years ago. I’m more focused on the last five years, when he’s worked in national security.”

Mr. Chaffetz also confronted Mr. Johnson about a racially charged 1998 memo Mr. Marrone wrote questioning the hiring practices of the Philadelphia police department.

In the memo, Mr. Marrone said an agreement the police had with the NAACP to hire a certain percentage of minority applicants meant the “skipping over of qualified white candidates, and the hiring of minorities with criminal records.”

Mr. Marrone also wrote that the police department’s policy of hiring only Philadelphia residents resulted in “an uneducated, unskilled, and unqualified department of minority officers.”

Mr. Johnson didn’t respond specifically to the memo and instead said Mr. Marrone brings needed skills to DHS.

“This is a man who has three young children; he’s married. He’s at work at 5 a.m. He is streamlining our organization. He is making the Department of Homeland Security a more efficient place,” Mr. Johnson said. “He is putting together a budget process, something that people on this committee and in this Congress have been after us to do for some years. He is doing an excellent job for the benefit of the public and the taxpayer.”

The Times reported this month that court records show Mr. Marrone spent much of the time he worked for Mr. Fumo overseeing renovations of the politician’s mansion and doing political work.

Court records also show he hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on one of Mr. Fumo’s political rivals, future Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

Mr. Chaffetz said the “variety of controversy,” including the police memo, should have raised red flags with government officials.

“I would think that this would cause concern in addition to all the public things that are out there about Mr. Fumo. I would encourage you to please look at the public record regarding judgments,” he told the secretary.

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About the Author
Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell covers national security for The Washington Times.

Before joining The Times, Kelly was a Washington-based reporter for Bloomberg News for six years, covering the intersection between business and politics through a variety of industry-based beats. She most recently covered technology, where her reports ranged from cybersecurity to congressional policymakers.

Before joining Bloomberg, she was a management consultant and ...

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