Erroll Southers — less than forthcoming all around

It looks like Erroll Southers, the Obama administration’s nominee to head the TSA, corrected his testimony about his abuse of his position with the FBI only after Senator Susan Collins learned that his testimony was inconsistent with FBI records and asked him to account for the inconsistency. To summarize this situation, about which I wrote here, In an affidavit, Southers admitted to Congress that he was censured by the FBI in 1988 for using his position to gain access to data about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. He claimed that he had asked a co-worker’s husband who worked for the police to run the database search. When Senator Collins asked Southers whether this was the only case in which he engaged in this serious abuse, he testified that it was.
Later, however, Southers sent a letter to Collins and Senator Lieberman (the two key members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee) stating that on two occasions, not one, he misused his position to gain access to information about the “boyfriend.” Moreover, he did not ask the police to run the search; rather, he ran it himself and passed the information on to the police.
In my previous post about this matter, I argued that if Southers corrected his testimony on his own initiative before anyone had reason to suspect it was incorrect, then the Senate should accept his claim that he did not intend to mislead it. However, if Southers corrected the record — especially the point about whether it was he who ran the improper search — only under duress, then there is good reason to question his credibility. It’s easy to see how Southers, 20 years after the fact, might inadvertently merge two incidents of improper database checks into one. But it’s less plausible to assume he would not remember that he did the checks himself.
The chronology set out in today’s Washington Post answers the question. On November 19, Senator Collins voted in committee in favor of Southers’ nomination. However, she did so “conditionally” and asked him to account in writing for the inconsistencies between his testimony and FBI documents she had reviewed. On November 20, Southers sent the letter to Senators Collins and Lieberman correcting the record. By that point, he had no choice.
Collins and Lieberman have said they will vote for Southers anyway. Senator DeMint, however, has placed a hold on the nomination and said he will oppose it. The hold was placed because Southers has not been forthcoming on the issue of whether he favors collective bargaining by TSA employees. DeMint’s opposition is based on Southers’ incorrect and misleading testimony to the Senate.
Harry Reid says he’s detemined to push the Southers’ nomination through, and his staff accuses DeMint of “playing politics” with the nomination. This claim is a convenient way of avoiding the substantial issues of (1) whether the unionization of TSA employees will lessen the agency’s ability to protect the security of airports and airlines and (2) whether, in light of his incorrect testimony, Southers has the integrity we should expect of someone in such a job.

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