Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

GOP Grills Administration About Menendez Intern Bust

Sen. Charles Grassley

Grassley, above, and other Republican senators have queried Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano twice about Zavaleta’s case. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

The timing of the arrest of Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, a registered sex offender who got plucked by immigration officials last December while interning for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., continues to trouble several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Zavaleta was arrested Dec. 6 on a visa violation.

A timeline provided to lawmakers by government whistleblowers suggests Homeland Security Department agents held off on taking Zavaleta out of circulation ahead of the November elections for fear the enforcement action would spark “significant Congressional and media interest.”

Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Orrin G. Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma have queried Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano twice about Zavaleta’s convoluted case, once on Dec. 19 (former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., lent his support to the opening salvo) and most recently on Jan. 7.

At issue is whether DHS deliberately delayed moving on Zavaleta for any kind of political reasons. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo relayed to lawmakers suggests Zavaleta was due to be arrested as early as Oct. 25 but that offensive was called off “given the potential sensitivities surrounding the case.”

The agency has repeatedly insisted that is not the case.

But given that DHS pledged to respond to Grassley et al. Jan. 11 (a self-imposed deadline it ultimately missed) and then went through the trouble of delivering an “interim response” Jan. 15 — “I’ve never seen that before,” a Senate aide said of the hold-your-horses missive — confidence is good someone might be getting hauled into a committee hearing room if answers continue to remain elusive.

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