The leaders of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security say President Obama's pick to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should get the job, despite revelations that he misled Congress about an incident 20 years ago that could have thrown his nomination into jeopardy.
President Obama's TSA nominee, Erroll Southers, gave different accounts of an incident in which he may have violated state privacy laws, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.
In a letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Southers tries to correct statements about an episode for which he was officially censured by the FBI.
In the letter, sent to the congressional committee on Nov. 20, Southers said any inconsistencies in his statements to Congress were "inadvertent," according to the Post, and he told Congress members that he had accepted full responsibility for what he described as a "grave error in judgment."
That lapse in judgment happened 20 years ago when Southers, then an FBI agent, used his position to access criminal records about his then-estranged wife's new boyfriend.
Southers initially said he had asked a San Diego Police Department employee to access the records for him, according to the Post, and that it was an "isolated" incident.
The committee approved his nomination on Nov. 19, and then a day later, Southers wrote a letter amending his characterization of the event, saying instead that he had accessed the records himself on two different occasions.
In the letter obtained by the Post, Southers admits he made a serious mistake.
"I am distressed by the inconsistencies between my recollection and the contemporaneous documents, but I assure you that the mistake was inadvertent and that I have at all times taken full responsibility for what I know to have been a grave error in judgment."
The two senators who head up the Committee on Homeland Security, Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, say they are satisfied that Southers has taken responsibility for the mistake and say the event should not derail his confirmation.
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A spokesman for Sen. Lieberman issued the following statement, "Errol Southers is an outstanding candidate to lead the TSA. Twenty years ago, Mr. Southers committed a serious error in judgment. He admitted that error and was disciplined for it.
He went on to develop broad knowledge and build an excellent reputation in the areas of security and law enforcement. Mr. Southers was forthcoming about his past censure during his nomination process and about errors he made in recalling the details.
Sen. Lieberman is satisfied that the totality of Mr. Southers' career more than qualifies him for the position to which he was nominated."
But Southers faces other challenges. Republicans have been delaying his confirmation, in particular, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., over concerns that Southers would push for TSA employees to unionize.
Democrats say Republicans are playing politics at a time when there's a leadership vacuum at the TSA, a leadership vacuum made all the more pronounced in the wake of the thwarted Christmas Day terror attacks in which Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to pass through TSA security checks with explosive materials hidden in his underwear.