A Virginia congressman has once again rejected an Obama administration request to move ahead with purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center, saying he does not trust promises that it will not move foreign detainees there from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In a letter Friday, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., blasted the Justice Department, attaching a letter from the families of some of the 9/11 victims, which states that they, too, do not trust the administration not to move detainees to Illinois.
The rejection of the administration’s request was swift. The Justice Department sent it only the day before.
Sen. Dick Durbin’s office
confirmed the request for a reprogramming of funds on Friday, and he and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn separately urged approval.
This is the second time Wolf has rejected the administration’s attempt to use existing funds to buy Thomson.
The purchase of the long-vacant prison 50 miles northeast of the Quad-Cities would add an estimated 1,100 jobs to the economically ailing region, and it has been a bipartisan priority of area lawmakers and public officials.
Members of the Quad-City area congressional delegation said Friday afternoon that they were disappointed in Wolf’s rejection and were preparing fuller responses.
Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement that Wolf was allowing “tortured logic and his personal feelings” to get in the way.
“Congressman Wolf is prepared to sacrifice over 1,000 jobs, which we desperately need, to flex his political muscle,” Durbin said.
The senator said he would continue to work with President Obama on the matter.
Reps. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., and Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, also issued a joint statement. They called Wolf’s rejection a “disappointing setback” and said they would work together to try to resolve the matter.
The administration’s reprogramming request is the latest in a long effort by the Obama administration to buy the prison. Its initial plan to move foreign detainees to Illinois from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was met with fierce resistance, leading the administration to back off.
Since then, the Justice Department has tried to buy the facility as a maximum-security prison to ease overcrowding in the federal prison system. But because Congress has not appropriated new money, the administration has sought to use existing funds.
That requires the approval of oversight committees in the House and Senate, and that is where Wolf’s permission is necessary. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has already indicated that the administration’s latest request is acceptable to her.
Wolf has refused, and his office has declined to respond to recent questions from Quad-City area reporters about the request.
A message left at his office was not returned Friday. However, his response to Attorney General Eric Holder was stinging. And it was apparent that Holder’s testimony last month, under oath, that he would not seek the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Thomson had little, if any, effect.
“Frankly, I do not trust the Department or the Administration to enforce the law forbidding the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States,” Wolf said in his Friday letter to Holder.
The congressman referred to a 2009 incident in which he said the administration tried to transfer Chinese Uighurs, whom he termed “foreign terrorists,” into his Virginia district. Wolf said Holder, at the time, pledged in congressional testimony that the department would not release terrorists into the U.S., yet it wanted to send the Uighurs, an ethnic group, to his district anyway.
The incident prompted an uproar in the state and the transfer never occurred.
Durbin and Quinn, in their own letters to Wolf, said the administration had met his concerns.
“I cannot see any reason for objecting to this sale. It is the right decision at the right time for our country and our state,” the governor said Friday.
“I believe a close examination of today’s reprogramming will demonstrate the issues that were of concern to you more than a year ago have been addressed by Administration officials, including funding sources,” Durbin added.
Wolf’s response also cited several other grievances against Holder, including the congressional investigation into the Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation, its decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and its recent ruling on stopping deportations of younger illegal immigrants who had met certain conditions.
The Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
It is not clear where backers of the prison’s purchase go from here.
Schilling has said there is a way to get around needing Wolf’s approval, and he and other lawmakers have asked the state of Illinois to agree to a lower price for the prison. The Republican congressman has referred to $75 million in federal funding, but Durbin’s office says the Federal Bureau of Prisons told it there is no $75 million in existing funds that would not have to be approved by Wolf.
The state and federal government have agreed for some time on a purchase price of $165 million. The prison was built for $140 million in 2002.
In his letter Friday, Wolf did not object to the asking price. However, he did question Justice Department priorities in seeking to use existing asset forfeiture and balances for the purchase.
He also called the request an “earmark” for Durbin, and he pointed to a Justice Department website where it posts earmark requests.
Durbin’s office rejected the idea that this constitutes an earmark.