Trump’s Pick for No. 2 at Labor Department Is an Old Ally of Jack Abramoff

“I was not one of Abramoff’s colleagues who was convicted.”

That was a modest (if bizarre) statement made by Patrick Pizzella, the president’s nominee for deputy secretary of labor, as a U.S. Senate committee considered his suitability for the job in question, according to a recent article in the Washington Examiner.

Abramoff is the once-powerful, since-jailed lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. He is remembered in immigration circles for his successful efforts to postpone the extension of the Mainland immigration act to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory just north of Guam, and hence for his support of the garment-making sweat shops that used to dot that territory, employing, at miserable wages, thousands of temporary foreign workers from China.

Abramoff was good at what he did. Instead of getting millions from the industry for his lobbying, he managed to persuade the Asian owners to convince the island government to be the client. He also invited many members of Congress and their staffs to visit the islands, all on the CNMI’s nickel. (Disclosure: I was working for the Clinton-era Department of the Interior, dealing with the islands and their labor policies, when Abramoff was at the height of his power.)

The sweat shops, all owned by Asian firms, are now closed; many, but not all, of the formerly exploited workers have returned to China; most of the CNMI work force continues to be nonimmigrant workers destined never to be citizens; and Abramoff has been tried, jailed, and subsequently released, but Pizzella remains politically active.

Pizzella was an attorney on the Abramoff team at the big Seattle law and lobbying firm of Preston Gates (with the Gates being the father of Bill Gates). Pizzella was also appointed by President Obama to membership of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (which I find astonishing). This is an obscure entity that deals with the relations between the government and its workers.

The statement by the nominee was elicited by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during the Senate committee hearing, and produced an ironic “I know that. Congratulations,” from the senator.

Will the full Senate confirm the nominee? We will have to wait to see.

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