A powerful House subcommittee chairman said Monday that his investigators have begun reviewing how a key figure in a Pennsylvania corruption case landed the chief of staff's job at the Homeland Security Department.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, whose House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security has some oversight responsibility for Homeland Security, said he was particularly concerned about how the Obama administration vetted Christian Marrone for the sensitive position that he started Monday.
The Washington Times reported Monday that Mr. Marrone acknowledged in court testimony in 2008 that he took a taxpayer salary as a Pennsylvania legislative aide while doing private work overseeing renovation work at the personal mansion of state Sen. Vincent Fumo. He was one of more than a half-dozen state Senate employees who performed personal or political work for Mr. Fumo on government time, according to court records.
Mr. Marrone, who worked for Mr. Fumo straight out of college from 1997 to 2002, was a central prosecution witness in the federal criminal trial that led to the conviction of his former boss and father-in-law, Mr. Fumo, on more than 100 corruption charges. At the time of his 2008 court testimony, he had been cleared to work in the Pentagon, where he held the job of principal assistant secretary of legislative affairs, among other positions.
"This is a key position and you have to have the utmost in integrity, and his appointment begs a lot of questions about what the administration knew and what did they do during the vetting process," Mr. Chaffetz said in an interview with The Times.
The lawmaker noted that Mr. Marrone's position helps oversee billions of dollars in taxpayer money dedicated to Homeland Security and possesses sensitive intelligence about emerging terrorism threats. "It's too important a position to mess around with someone who has a questionable background," Mr. Chaffetz said.
Prosecutors said Mr. Marrone spent 80 percent of his first year and a half working for Mr. Fumo overseeing the renovation of the politician's mansion. He also testified that he drew only a government salary and, like other workers in the office, never kept track of his hours.
Mr. Marrone married Mr. Fumo's daughter, who had a falling-out with the former lawmaker.
The White House and Homeland Security Department defended Mr. Marrone's appointment but refused to say what information about the Pennsylvania corruption case turned up in his background check and whether Secretary Jeh Johnson knew of the testimony before selecting Mr. Marrone as his top aide.
Still, court records show Mr. Johnson at least knew of Mr. Fumo. A private lawyer at the time, Mr. Johnson represented a polling firm that received a grand jury subpoena in the Fumo case, a topic unrelated to Mr. Marrone's activities.
Meanwhile, administration officials pointed out to reporters Monday that Mr. Marrone received praise as a Pentagon aide, including from recently retired Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Mr. Chaffetz said praise in a book hardly constitutes a thorough background check for a job as sensitive as Mr. Marrone's.
"Just because your name appeared in a book by a defense secretary doesn't mean you're the right person," the lawmaker said. "We're going to ask for their background file and what did they know and when did they know it."
"We have some serious concerns and questions, and we want to probe into the matter and give the administration the opportunity to respond to what are very serious concerns," he added.
Asked by The Times on Monday whether Mr. Marrone is qualified for a highly sensitive government job, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Marrone also worked as a top Defense Department official in the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.
"As the article you're asking about makes clear, Mr. Marrone was a Defense Department official in the Bush administration," Mr. Carney said. "I don't remember any of these concerns coming up or being raised then by your paper or others."
Mr. Carney said Mr. Marrone "served as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense, a very senior role, so you can be assured that the White House and Secretary Johnson have complete confidence and look forward to his service as chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security."
Asked whether that raises concerns about the Obama administration's vetting of Mr. Marrone, Mr. Carney replied, "We do not get into our internal vetting process. I don't remember these issues being raised then [in the Bush administration]. And I can tell you we're not going to get into, we never do, our internal vetting process."
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