The Justice Department’s new Tax Division chief wasn’t exactly a potted plant at a congressional hearing Thursday, but she took only a handful of questions from lawmakers as she and two other division chiefs updated the subcommittee on their work.
Kathryn Keneally, who was confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division at the end of March, was joined on the panel by Civil Division acting chief Stuart Delery and Environmental and Natural Resources Division chief Ignacia Moreno.
Asked about how the the Tax Division takes a proactive stance on fraud, Keneally said she would always prefer handling crimes that are ” ‘attempted’ rather than ‘completed.’ ” She said, though, that many of the cases come to the division as a referral from the Internal Revenue Service or as a request from a U.S. Attorney’s Office to open a grand jury case. Tax fraud, she said, is an enforcement priority, adding that she is “pleased to report that I think we are doing a very effective job in these areas.”
Members of the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, commercial and administrative law came down hard on Delery and Moreno about the role of the federal government in state matters.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) peppered Delery with questions about the department’s lawsuit against his home state of South Carolina on the grounds that the state’s newly enacted immigration law could interfere with the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration policy.
Gowdy demanded to know why the department is interfering with what he characterized as the South Carolina’s attempts to help the federal government. The feds, he said, have done a “woefully inadequate” job of enforcing immigration policy.
Delery said the government relies on assistance from states to help enforce immigration laws, but “when a state crosses from cooperation with the federal law and federal priorities into creating a state-level immigration policy” the Justice Department has to step in.
The Civil Division acting chief said allowing states to create a “patchwork” of immigration laws would conflict with enforcement of such policies and constitutional structure.
Another Republican lawmaker took issue with the department’s use of consent decrees, saying no other administration has used the litigation tool as broadly as the current one.
Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said he believes there has been an overreliance on consent decrees — which ends litigation through a voluntary agreement between the prosecution and the defendant — cuts out important stakeholders in the resolution process.
“Consent decrees are done behind closed doors… shutting out stakeholders,” Quayle said.
The Republican lawmaker asked Moreno whether a policy beyond the oft-cited Meese Memo has been put in place. (The memo, named after author and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, dictates the DOJ’s policy and use of consent decrees in litigation).
Moreno said the department abides by the Meese memo and has not adopted any other policy.