Stephanie Rose discusses Postville at confirmation hearing

U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose told members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that she wasn’t a key decision maker regarding the May 2008 immigration raid in Postville, Iowa.

President Barack Obama has nominated Rose for a federal judgeship in the southern district of Iowa, where Chief Judge Robert Pratt is retiring effective July 1. Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Rose and several other judicial nominees on March 14. Trish Mehaffey covered the hearing for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Grassley, chairman of the committee, said he had a lengthy question, about 10 points, for Rose regarding the Postville raid and her role to clear up any misconceptions and submit it into the record for this hearing. […]

Rose said Wednesday she was the deputy chief of the criminal division with the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time of the raid. She said that title may be misleading because she was overseeing the “guns and drugs” cases. Her role in Postville was limited and she wasn’t in charge of the operation. She spent two weeks in Waterloo when the prosecutions took place. She acted as a liaison between the court, defense attorneys, probation, the clerk’s office and others.

Most of her time was spent on the phone coordinating, she said.

“I think I had three phones at the time and I was looking at my phone records from then and had 687 minutes in a 12 day period,” Rose said.

Rose, who wasn’t the U.S. Attorney at the time, said her role was mostly as a problem solver. She wasn’t involved in the planning of the raid, the pre-raid ratified plea agreements or the prosecutions themselves. Most of the decision-making was coming from the U.S. Department of Justice who had to approve the fast track prosecutions.

A former interpreter for many of the Postville defendants sharply criticized Rose for standing by the tactics used by Postville prosecutors. The U.S. Supreme Court later disallowed the way identity theft charges were used in many of those cases. In her testimony yesterday, Rose disavowed any role in devising the legal tactics or terms of the plea agreements.

Many of the Agriprocessors workers were charged with identity theft, a heavy-duty felony. Critics have blasted the way the defendants were sent assembly-line style through the court system, in such a rapid fashion that the workers had little chance to consider their options.

Within 10 days of the arrests, the judge had taken plea deals for 297 people. Eventually, 306 pleaded guilty. Most ended up with charges of using false immigration documents to obtain work, and were sentenced to five months in prison.

“All 306 who we charged during those days did plead guilty. There was not a single trial held,” Rose said.

There has never been a case where so many workers from a workplace raid were prosecuted en masse – and the justice department has not repeated it since.

Asked what involvement Rose had with the planning of the raid, or with the plea agreements, Rose answered: “None.”

“There was a matrix set up as part of the fast-track-approved plea agreement where if certain facts were present, the plea offer would be X,” Rose testified today. “If a different set of facts were present, the plea offer would be Y. There was very little, in fact no that I’m aware of, movement off what had been pre-approved.”

Grassley’s office did not release a statement following the committee hearing. Both he and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin supported Rose’s confirmation as U.S. attorney for the northern district of Iowa in 2009. Harkin included Rose on a short list for the judgeship and strongly praised her in his opening remarks to yesterday’s hearing.

In related news, Grassley prepared a lengthy floor statement on March 13 on the subject of alleged Republican obstruction of judicial nominations. I enclose that statement, delivered a day before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a deal on a timetable for considering 17 of the president’s judicial nominees.

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

Remarks on District Court Cloture Petitions

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mr. President, I rise to speak regarding judicial nominations, and to respond to some of the claims made by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

If you listened to some of our colleagues over the last couple of days, you would think the sky is falling.  They act as if the Senate is treating President Obama’s judicial nominees differently than nominees have been treated in the past.

That is simply not true.

A fair and impartial look at the numbers tells a far different story.  The fact of the matter is that President Obama’s nominees are being treated just as well, and in many cases, much more fairly than the Democrats treated President Bush’s nominees.  I want to take just a couple minutes to set the record straight.

Let me start by taking a brief look at the 17 cloture motions the Majority has filed.  Seven of those nominees were reported out of the Judiciary Committee within the last month, and three of them were reported last week.

That is without precedent.  To our knowledge, the Majority has never filed cloture on district court nominees within a month of them being reported out of the Judiciary Committee.  That accounts for seven of the 17.

What about the other 10?  Well, what our colleagues fail to mention is that they could have gotten a majority of those nominees confirmed at the end of last Session.  Our side cleared quite few nominees, and we offered to confirm them as a package at the end of last Session.  However, the President refused to offer assurances that he would not bypass the Senate and make so-called recess appointments.

In other words, it was the President who chose not to confirm those nominees at the end of last Session.  If the President believes we should have confirmed more nominees last fall, he should look to his own Administration for an explanation.

That is the background on the 17 cloture motions before the Senate.

But let me comment on something that I read in one of our daily newspapers that covers the Congress.  A famous reporter said in the second paragraph of a report I read today that the Republicans are filibustering nominations. I told the writer of that article that you can’t filibuster anything that’s not before the United States Senate, and these nominees were not before the United States Senate until the leader of the majority filed these cloture motions.

So wouldn’t you think, that if you believed you needed to stop debate, that you would at least let debate start in the first place?  But no.  The game that’s played around here is that, in order to build up the numbers, so you can claim that the minority is filibustering, when the minority is not actually filibustering.

But, let me take a step back and address some of the claims I have heard from the other side.  I cannot believe some of the comments I am hearing, so I believe it is important to set the record straight.

First of all, everyone around here understands that it takes a tremendous amount of time and resources for the Senate to consider Supreme Court nominees.  For that reason, when a Supreme Court nomination is pending before the Senate, the Judiciary Committee considers little else.

During President Obama’s first three years in office, the Senate considered not one, BUT TWO nominations to the Supreme Court.  Those nominations occupied the Judiciary Committee for approximately six months.  

The last time the Senate handled two Supreme Court nominations was during President George W. Bush’s second term.  During President Bush’s entire second term, we confirmed only 120 lower court nominees.  Under President Obama, we have already confirmed 129 lower court  nominees.

Let me repeat that.  We have confirmed 129 of President Obama’s judicial nominees in just over three years.  That is more than were confirmed under George W. Bush’s entire second term.

And again, the comparison between President Obama’s first three years to President George W. Bush’s second term is the appropriate comparison.

These were the only two time periods in recent memory when the Senate handled two Supreme Court nominations during such a short time period.

But, even if you compare the number of President Obama’s nominees confirmed to President Bush’s first term, it is clear that President Obama has fared very well.

More specifically, even though the Senate did not consider any Supreme Court nominations during President Bush’s first term, we have confirmed approximately the same number of President Obama’s lower court nominees as we did President Bush’s, relative to the nominations President Obama has made.

In other words, although fewer lower court nominees have been confirmed under President Obama, the President made approximately 20 percent fewer judicial nominations during his first 3 years than President Bush did in his first term.

As a practical matter, if the President believes he hasn’t gotten enough confirmations, then he should look no further than the pace at which he has made nominations.

Maybe he should’ve spent less time on the 100 or so fundraisers he’s been holding all over the country recently, and more time on making judicial nominations.

The fact of the matter is this: IF a backlog exists, then it is clear that it originates with the President.

If you need even more evidence that the President has been slow to send judicial nominees to the Senate, all you need to do is examine the current vacancies.  My colleagues have been on the Senate floor talking about the so-called “vacancy crisis.”

But, what my colleagues fail to mention is that the White House has not even made nominations for over half of the current vacancies.

Let me repeat that:  Of the 83 current vacancies, the White House has not submitted nominations for 44 of them.

As a result, it is clear that IF there is a “vacancy crisis,” once again the problem rests with the White House.  If the President believes there are too many vacancies in the federal courts, he should look no further than his own Administration for an explanation.

Now, what about the other side’s claim that nominees are waiting longer to get confirmed than they have in the past?

Once again, this is just not true.

The average time from nomination to confirmation of judges during the Obama Administration is nearly identical to what it was under President Bush.  During President Bush’s Presidency, it took on average, approximately 211 days for judicial nominees to be confirmed.

During the first three years of President Obama’s Presidency, it has taken 218 days for his judicial nominees to be confirmed.

I’m sure this will be news to many of my colleagues.  If you have listened to the other side, you would think we have somehow broken new ground.  We haven’t.  We are treating President Obama’s nominees virtually the same as President Bush’s.

It’s not our primary concern to worry about whether one President is being treated differently than the other. We just proceed with our work.  But the numbers you see here is a result of our work.  The fact of the matter is that the numbers aren’t much different than other presidents.  To suggest we are treating President Obama’s nominees a whole lot differently is intellectually dishonest.

The fact of the matter is that the Senate has been working its will, and regularly processing the President’s judicial nominees in much the same way it has in the past.

Given that the President’s nominees have received such fair treatment, why would the Majority Leader choose to take the unprecedented step of filing 17 cloture petitions on district court nominees?

Why would the Majority Leader choose to manufacture controversy where none exists?

The answer is simple.  These votes are nothing short of a stunt.  They are a smokescreen.

They are designed to accomplish two goals: First, as even Democrats concede, the President cannot run for re-election on his own record, so these votes are designed to help the President’s re-election strategy by somehow portraying Republicans as “obstructionist.”

Second, the other side simply does not want to talk about the extremely important and very real problems facing this nation.

Look at any poll. Go to any town meeting.  People in this country and my state of Iowa are concerned about the economy and jobs. With 8.3 percent unemployment, they are right to expect us to work on jobs.

A small business tax bill passed the other body.  Why aren’t taking that up?  It’s ready and would likely pass the Senate without much dissent.

Why aren’t we taking up a budget this year?

It’s been four years since the Senate has passed a budget. This is budget week.  Instead of talking about a budget, we’re spending time talking about judicial nominees who aren’t going to be filibustered.   We ought to be considering a budget.

But the Majority refused to produce a budget.  It’s been more than 1,040 days.

The American people are sitting at home and watching this debate.  They want to know how we are going to get the unemployment rate down.

They are not concerned about whether the Senate will confirm one of the President’s district court nominees this week, rather than next.

They want to know what we are doing to help their father, or mother, or brother or sister get back into the workforce.

Given that millions of Americans remain out of work, why aren’t we considering and debating the JOBS bill the House just passed?

Why aren’t we tackling the Energy crisis?

With $4 gas in this country, we ought to be talking about drilling here, drilling now.  We ought to be talking about building a pipeline.  We ought to be talking about how we can stop sending

$833 million every day overseas to buy oil. We ought to be talking about extending the energy tax extenders that sunset as of December 23.

Unlike the so-called “vacancy crisis,” the energy crisis is not manufactured.  It is real.  The rising cost of gasoline matters to millions and millions of Americans.

If they are fortunate enough to have a job in this economy, millions of Americans are trying to figure out how they will afford to get to work with the rising cost of gasoline.

Rather than spend time working on Energy crisis, which is all too real for millions of Americans, we are spending time on this manufactured controversy.

And what’s even worse, this is the week we’re supposed to be debating a Budget.  But, you’d need a high powered microscope to find any budget that the Majority has put together.  The Majority has failed to produce a budget, so they manufacture a so-called “crisis” on nominations to throw up a smokescreen to hide their failure.

Mr. President, I will have more to say about this as we move forward with this debate.  But for now I will conclude by saying this.

A fair and impartial examination of how the Senate has treated President Obama’s nominees reveals that, contrary to what you’ll hear from the other side, the President’s nominees are being treated more than fair.

Rather than waste time on a so-called “crisis” that everyone realizes is entirely manufactured, we should be focusing on those issues that matter deeply to the American people: jobs, the economy, and tackling our energy crisis.

I urge my colleagues to reject these cloture petitions so that we can get back to the business of the American people.

I yield the floor.

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