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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.