Tom Coburn’s Pick of Aide Shows Latitude in Congressional Hiring
A Senator hiring a recent college graduate from his home state with previous political experience wouldn’t usually raise any eyebrows.
But Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to hire a former Member’s son who has a criminal record illustrates the latitude lawmakers have to hire as they see fit — and the value of personal connections in a world where information about wrongdoing can be found at a moment’s notice.
The Oklahoma Republican in March brought on Kramer James Largent as a district staff assistant in his Tulsa office, according to the website LegiStorm.
The Oklahoma State University graduate, who previously interned for another Senator, pleaded guilty to criminal solicitation and sexual harassment of a minor in a 2006 case.
A criminal charge or arrest is usually a black mark that ends careers on Capitol Hill.
An aide to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was fired in 2008 on the day her office learned he had been charged with receiving and distributing child pornography. The year before, an aide to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) lost his job and was arrested for using a Senate computer to arrange a meeting with an individual he believed to be a 13-year-old boy but was actually a witness cooperating with the police.
Largent’s transgression occurred years before he arrived in Coburn’s office. It certainly helped that he is the son of NFL Hall of Famer and former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent (R) and that he previously interned for former Sen. John Ensign
(R-Nev.) during a summer in college.
Beyond their Congressional connections, Largent and Ensign knew Coburn well through their involvement with a Christian organization known as the Fellowship. Largent and Ensign at one point lived in the Fellowship’s house on Capitol Hill, known as the C Street Center. Both Coburn and Largent played a role in confronting Ensign about the extramarital affair that derailed his career.
Coburn’s decision to hire Kramer Largent was part of a process of helping him get his life back on track, John Hart, a spokesman for the Senator, said in a statement.
“Dr. Coburn has known Kramer since he was nine years old,” Hart said. “He’s seen him battle through spina bifida and deal with the highs and lows growing up in the limelight. Dr. Coburn is also aware of the fact that Kramer made a terrible mistake more than six years ago when, as a teenager, he committed an online misdemeanor to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation. Since that time Dr. Coburn has seen Kramer work to get his life back on track. Kramer graduated from college and is now happily married. Dr. Coburn recently decided to give Kramer a chance to continue that process.”
Largent was indicted in July 2006 on four felony counts of the sexual solicitation of a minor under 16. Charging documents obtained from Delaware state court say that when Largent was 19, he met a 15-year-old girl on the Internet and tried to persuade her to meet him “for the purpose of facilitating, encouraging, offering or soliciting a prohibited sexual act.”
He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to one year of probation for criminal solicitation and sexual harassment, during which he completed court-ordered individual and group therapy for sex offenders.
The effect a criminal history has on getting hired as a Congressional staffer depends largely on the Member doing the hiring.
The Senate Democrats’ website, for example, tells job applicants that selection and continued employment “may be contingent upon an applicant satisfactorily completing a background check (including a criminal history records review).”
In the House, Members have the option but are not required to arrange a background check for potential employees, the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer confirmed. The effect of a background check on a hiring decision “depends on the respective office policies and the type of info” uncovered, a spokesman said.
Job candidates must authorize a potential employer to conduct a background check under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. The employer then must notify candidates if any adverse action is taken on the basis of the information found in the report.
But the Internet has changed the process. Information that was once only available at a courthouse is now online and sometimes accessible with a quick Google search. “Information brokers” have consolidated public records and now sell cheap and nearly instant background checks online.
“A few years ago, if you wanted a criminal record, you had to go to the courthouse,” said Tena Friery, research director at the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “Now, the records have been consolidated and sold and resold by commercial vendors. You can find relatives, previous addresses, the names of your relatives, your neighbors. … Nothing is off-limits.”
And not everyone is lucky enough to get a second chance.
“Dr. Coburn has made it clear to Kramer that he’s not going to be granted special treatment besides being given a second chance,” Hart said. “Like all new entry-level hires in our office he is employed on a probationary basis during which he’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate his skills and fulfill his potential.”