The defendant's father contributed thousands to Becerra's campaigns
President-elect Joe Biden's pick for health and human services secretary, Xavier Becerra, played a key role in events that led to the pardon of a convicted drug trafficker after the defendant's father contributed thousands of dollars toward his campaigns.
While Carlos Vignali was in prison his father, California businessman Horacio Vignali, requested favors from several political figures including then-Congressman Becerra, seeking assistance in lobbying for his son's release. Carlos Vignali received a commutation from President Bill Clinton on the last day of the administration in January 2001.
"Congressman Becerra conceded that the Vignalis were not members of his constituency but that Horacio had been a friend and contributor of his for five years," a 2002 House report said, specifying that Horacio Vignali had contributed at least $11,000 to his political action committee between 1998 and 2001, $2,475 to his congressional campaigns, and $3,500 toward his subsequent failed bid for Los Angeles mayor.
As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001, Becerra acknowledged that Horacio Vignali and then-Rep. Esteban Torres, D-Calif., both contacted him about helping Carlos. This led to Becerra contacting Alejandro Mayorkas, who was a U.S. attorney at the time and is now Biden's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Becerra, who is currently the California attorney general, asked Mayorkas whether a commutation of Vignali’s sentence was possible, which led to Mayorkas taking a look at the case and agreeing that the sentence was unfair. Mayorkas was also in contact with Vignali and, at his urging, placed calls to Washington -- including to the White House -- about the case, despite admittedly not being very familiar with the facts of the case.
The House report said that Mayorkas' involvement was "inappropriate," and "particularly troubling" given that the prosecutors who convicted Vignali opposed commutation.
Mayorkas was not the only official Becerra contacted regarding Vignali's case. He called Pardon Attorney Roger Adams in October 1998 asking about the commutation process, and just over two years later, in November 2000, Becerra sent a letter to the White House about Vignali.
“In the interest of redeeming the life of a young man, I respectfully urge you to weigh a few factors in Mr. Vignali's favor,” the letter said. Becerra also called the White House on Clinton’s last day in office, but a decision still had not been made at that point.
Becerra later claimed that he was not actively seeking Vignali’s release, but wanted a review of the case. Former Associate White House Counsel Meredith Cabe, however, described Becerra’s actions as “advocacy.”
According to the House report, Vignali’s clemency petition contained false representations, including the claim that this was a first-time offense, despite having had a previous criminal record.
After it came out that Horacio Vignali had used his clout to ask several political figures to act on his son’s behalf, officials including Mayorkas regretted getting involved.
Fox News' Brittany De Lea contributed to this report.