Though most of President Joe Biden’s high-level administration nominees have sailed through without a great degree of opposition, his choice for one key role has drawn some serious controversy in recent days.
As the Daily Mail reports, Biden’s decision to tap Kenneth Polite to head the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has attracted criticism due to the nominee’s role in a 2016 plea deal he oversaw involving a district attorney in Louisiana who was accused of sexual misconduct.
Biden announced his intention to nominate Polite to the post of assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice on April 12 in a move that brought a prior career controversy that has plagued the former federal prosecutor from New Orleans back into the spotlight.
The issue stems from the case of former longtime St. Charles Parish, Louisiana district attorney Harry Morel, who faced accusations of granting leniency to criminal defendants in exchange for sexual favors over the course of many years. Despite having received DOJ approval to issue an indictment against Morel on charges of racketeering, Polite never even charged him with sexual misconduct, but instead offered him a sweetheart deal that observers at the time found baffling.
Morel ultimately pleaded guilty to one charge of obstructing a federal investigation and served under two years in prison, far less than the sentence he could have received if convicted of the racketeering, fraud, and obstruction charges some argue he deserved. Comparisons to that arrangement have been drawn with the deal disgraced sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein managed to wrangle with Florida prosecutors back in 2008, as the Daily Mail noted.
According to NOLA.com, a former FBI employee who has voiced outrage over the Morel case for multiple years has re-emerged in recent days to express his opinion that Polite is utterly unsuited for the DOJ role. Mike Zummer was one of the agents who investigated the accusations against Morel and whose prior objections to his handling of the case ultimately cost him his job.
Zummer alleged that Polite delegated important decision-making authority in the Morel matter to staffers with known conflicts of interest and blasted the now-Biden nominee for proceeding to negotiate a plea agreement despite the defendant’s acknowledgment that he solicited sexual favors from women seeking favorable treatment for loved ones facing criminal charges, NOLA.com noted.
In casting doubt about Polite’s fitness for a critical position within the Biden administration, Zummer said that while serving in New Orleans, he “really didn’t have control, and he really didn’t have the backbone to stand up to people in his office who I think were engaged in malfeasance.”
Time will tell whether Zummer’s objections will gain any steam and prompt further inquiry by the Senate Judiciary Committee charged with determining the fate of his nomination next month, but given the seriousness of the claims about Polite’s ethics and professional judgment, they probably should.