Two of Joe Biden’s cabinet picks assisted former President Bill Clinton’s “pardongate” scandal by lobbying for clemency for a convicted cocaine trafficker whose father had contributed to Democrat campaigns.
According to a House Committee on Government Reform report from 2002 revisited recently by The Daily Caller, Xavier Becerra, Biden’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, and Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick for the head of Department of Homeland Security, both helped obtain a presidential pardon for Carlos Vignali.
The report states that a “key element” in the release of the drug trafficker were “letters from prominent Los Angeles-area politicians,” to whom Vignali’s father had contributed large sums, including Becerra. At the time, all of these men hailed from Los Angeles, where Vignali’s father was a businessman, with Becerra as a U.S. congressman and Mayorkas as the U.S. attorney.
“A number of these letters contained misleading statements calculated to create the impression that Carlos Vignali was innocent,” the report stated. That is false. Clinton pardoned Vignali during a pardon spree before he left office handing out favors to numerous old friends and campaign donors who had been convicted of crimes. The Clinton White House was notorious for doing business this way.
Vignali’s father, Horacio Vignali, donated to both Becerra’s PAC and his political campaigns for mayor and Congress, totaling more than $17,000 from 1998-2001, an obvious conflict of interest. The House also found that Mayorkas’s support for Vignali was “totally inappropriate” due to his position within the government as a federal prosecutor, another conflict of interest.
“U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas provided critical support for the Vignali commutation that was inappropriate, given his position,” the report said. “Mayorkas supported the Vignali commutation despite his ignorance of the facts of the case and his knowledge that the prosecutors responsible for the Vignali case opposed clemency.”
Vignali’s sentence was commuted on Jan. 20, 2001, shortly after Becerra wrote a letter to the president the previous November to recommend “a full evaluation of this case to determine if justice has been achieved in the case of Mr. Vignali.” Becerra also repeatedly called the White House advocating for Vignali, according to the House report.
According to White House counsel Meredith Cabe, Mayorkas’s advocacy was also “significant” because “very few prosecutors advocate clemency in any form.”
A deputy White House counsel, Bruce Lindsey, testified that it was Mayorkas’s influence who reached out to him after talking with Vignali’s father, that sold him on the commutation. Despite warnings against clemency from federal prosecutor Todd Jones that the drug dealer was “bad news” and a “major player,” Mayorkas moved ahead to meet with Vignali’s father to talk about a potential pardon.
“Over the next two years, Mayorkas would see Horacio Vignali at various community events and at several one-on-one meetings with Vignali,” the report stated.
In 2013, Mayorkas claimed during his DHS deputy secretary confirmation hearing that he only began supporting Vignali’s pardon after the Clinton White House reached out to him. The House report, however, states that Mayorkas wrote an email in 2001 claiming that he “called the White House counsel’s office” to advocate for Vignali” first.