February 18, 2014

DHS official Marrone used private eye to spy on future Pennsylvania governor Rendell

When his past in a Pennsylvania corruption case surfaced recently, Homeland Security chief of staff Christian Marrone’s defenders insisted he was a victim of a crooked politician who took advantage of his inexperience as a young legislative aide. Some even suggested that Mr. Marrone was a whistleblower for helping prosecutors convict his former boss.

But emails and documents obtained by The Washington Times from court files show Mr. Marrone initiated some of the very activities that captured prosecutors’ interest and led to the downfall of his former boss, state Sen. Vincent Fumo. Some of those activities even personally benefited Mr. Marrone in the process.

For instance, Mr. Marrone accepted $4,000 from a publicly funded nonprofit run by Fumo to pay the cost of his bar review course. The money from the tax-exempt charity was supposed to help revive blighted urban neighborhoods.

While collecting a taxpayer salary, Mr. Marrone also gave Fumo a suggestion to disguise the true source of a proposed political donation from a developer and conceived a plan to spy on Edward G. Rendell to find dirt that could undercut the Philadelphia mayor’s campaign for governor.

“I’d like to snoop around and see if we can dig up some info,” Mr. Marrone wrote in one 2001 email in which he proposed hiring a private investigator to spy on renovations at one of Mr. Rendell’s homes to determine whether he was using nonunion workers. He later asked Fumo for permission to turn over the private eye’s findings to Mr. Rendell’s political rival.

‘Willing participant’

Such activities, gleaned from exhibits in the 2008-09 court case that sent Fumo to prison for 55 months on corruption charges, contrast with Mr. Marrone’s portrayal that he was a unwitting “victim of Vince” who simply carried out orders without knowing what he was doing was wrong, a government watchdog told The Times.

“These emails pretty clearly show he was a willing participant,” said Craig Holman, legislative director at the watchdog group Public Citizen.

He also pointed out that prosecutors nonetheless concluded that Mr. Marrone shouldn’t be charged with crimes.

“There may not be anything illegal about using a private investigator to spy on a political figure, but it smacks of Nixonian-style dirty politics.”

The emails also raise fresh questions about the security background check that cleared Mr. Marrone for his current job. This month, he began overseeing a department with billions of dollars in grant money and access to some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets, security analysts said.

The contrast between Mr. Marrone’s claims and the emails in the corruption case should have raised a red flag when the U.S. government vetted him for a security clearance years later, said Mark Riley, a Maryland lawyer who represents people who have been denied clearances or had them revoked.

“If you’ve been in business with criminals, if you’ve accepted favors from them, that should give any security clearance investigator great concern,” Mr. Riley said. “Pleading ignorance is no excuse — if he walks like a duck, acts like a duck, he’s probably a duck. Investigators should’ve uncovered that.”

The quality of Mr. Marrone’s background check also concerns Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican whose House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security has begun demanding answers from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on why he appointed Mr. Marrone to such a sensitive position.

Mr. Chaffetz began his review after an article in The Times revealed Mr. Marrone’s connections to the Fumo criminal case.

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