White House defends nominee to head TSA, says delay is based on politics



HONOLULU(AP)—AcknowledginghehasgiveninconsistentanswerstoCongress,PresidentBarackObama'spicktoleadtheTransportationSecurityAdministrationwrotetolawmakerstoexplainareprimandhereceivedforrunningbackgroundchecksonhisthen-estrangedwife'sboyfriendtwodecadesago.

ErrollSouthers,aformerFBIagentwhosenominationhasbeendelayedbyRepublicansforunrelatedconcerns,sentalettertosenatorsinNovembertocorrectwhathecalledadistortionofhisrecord.AsDemocratspushforhisspeedyconfirmation,thechairmanoftheSenateHomelandSecurityCommitteesaidhemaintainedfaithinthenominee.

"Iamdistressedbytheinconsistenciesbetweenmyrecollectionandthecontemporaneousdocuments,butIassureyouthatthemistakewasinadvertent,andthatIhaveatalltimestakenfullresponsibilityforwhatIknowtohavebeenagraveerrorinjudgment,"hewroteinalettertoSens.JoeLieberman,I-Conn.,andSusanCollins,R-Maine.

"Thisincidentwasover20yearsago,Iwasdistraughtandconcernedaboutmyyoungson,andneverinmycareersincehastherebeenanyrecurrenceofthissortofconduct."

InanOctoberaffidavitfortheSenatecommittee,heinitiallysaidheaskedaSanDiegopoliceemployeetorunabackgroundcheckonhisthen-estrangedwife'sboyfriendandwascensuredbyhisFBIsuperiors20yearsagoforwhathesaidwasanisolatedinstance.

ButadayafterthecommitteeapprovedhisnominationandsentittothefullSenate,hewrotetothesenatorsandtoldthemthathewasincorrect,thathetwiceranbackgroundcheckshimself.

Inthelettercorrectingtherecord,Southersalsosaidhedownloadedlawenforcementrecordsandsharedthem.Hesaidheforgottheincidentin1987or1988.

TheletterwasfirstreportedbyTheWashingtonPost'sWebsiteonThursday.Theletter,whichwasdistributedtoallmembersoftheHomelandSecurityCommitteeandwhosecontentswereverifiedtoTheAssociatedPressbyaDemocraticsource,wasdatedNov.20.

LiebermanaideLesliePhillipssaidthesenatorcontinuestosupportSouthers.

"Twentyyearsago,Mr.Southerscommittedaseriouserrorinjudgment,"Phillipssaid."Headmittedthaterrorandwasdisciplinedforit.Hewentontodevelopbroadknowledgeandbuildanexcellentreputationintheareasofsecurityandlawenforcement.Mr.Southerswasforthcomingabouthispastcensureduringhisnominationprocessandabouterrorshemadeinrecallingthedetails."

WhiteHouseofficialslinedupbehindSouthers'nominationtoheadaTransportationDepartmentagencythatlackedaconfirmedchiefwhenasuspectedterroristfailedtodestroyaDetroit-boundairlineronChristmasDay.

"Southershasnevertriedtohidethisincidentandhasexpressedthatthesewereerrorshemadeinjudgmentthathedeeplyregrettedandanerrorthathemadeinanaccountofeventsthathappenedover20yearsago,"saidNickShapiro,aWhiteHousespokesmantravelingwithObamaonvacationinHawaii.

"Southers'nominationhasnotbeenheldupoverthisashehasbeenentrustedwithsignificantandincreasingresponsibilitiesintheareaofhomelandsecurityovertheyearssince,butheisbeingheldupbySen.(Jim)DeMintoverapoliticalissue."

Southers'nominationhasbeendelayedbyDeMint,aSouthCarolinaRepublican,whosaidhefearedTSAemployeeswouldjoinunionswithSouthers'support.MajorityLeaderHarryReid,D-Nev.,saidhewouldforceavoteonSouthersbythefullSenateinthenewyear,hisspokesmansaid.

Southers'nominationsecuredthebackingfromformercolleagues,includingtheRepublicangovernorofCaliforniawhonominatedhimashisNo.2homelandsecurityadviserandhasknownSouthersfor30years,backtohisdaysasaSantaMonicapoliceofficer.

"Errollbringsvasthomelandsecurityexperienceatthefederal,stateandlocallevels,alongwithhandsonairportsecurityexpertise,"Gov.ArnoldSchwarzeneggersaidinastatement."Californiaissaferandbetterpreparedbecauseofhishardworkanddedication.Errollisacommittedpublicservantandhighlyqualifiedfortherole."

HisformerbossalsopraisedSouthers'character.

"Heisamanofunquestionedintegritywho,forthepast30years,hasdedicatedhislifetopublicservice,"wroteRonaldIden,nowchiefsecurityofficerfortheWaltDisneyCo.,whobroughtSouthersonashisdeputyattheCaliforniahomelandsecurityofficein2004.HiswasamongtheletterssenttotheSenateinsupportofSouthers'nomination.

SouthersistheassistantchiefoftheLosAngelesWorldAirportsPoliceDepartment.HepreviouslytaughtattheUniversityofSouthernCalifornia,wasasecurityconsultantandapoliceofficer.


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