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Washington largely silent on Walsh’s role in Dennis White controversy

Former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh is now the US secretary of Labor
Former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh is now the US secretary of LaborErin Clark/Globe Staff/File

WASHINGTON — New revelations about Martin J. Walsh’s failure to properly vet his pick for Boston Police commissioner in his final weeks as mayor before joining President Biden’s Cabinet have been met largely with silence by members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, even though the controversy involves two issues — domestic violence and police accountability — that many of them have been outspoken about.

Since Acting Mayor Kim Janey released an independent investigator’s report Friday on past allegations of domestic violence against Commissioner Dennis White, the state’s House and Senate members have not expressed any criticism of Walsh, a fellow Democrat who now serves as US labor secretary. Most did not respond to requests for comment from the Globe on Walsh’s role in appointing White in late January and new developments revealed by the report.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston each issued statements saying the investigator’s report showed the need for more police accountability and transparency as well as an end to legal protections for officers known as qualified immunity. Neither directly mentioned Walsh or the failure by him and his administration to thoroughly vet White, who has been trailed by brutal domestic violence allegations that were allegedly covered up by the police department.

The report also said the Walsh administration attempted to end the probe into White shortly after it began in February, when his nomination as labor secretary was moving forward. A Labor Department spokesperson denied Walsh tried to halt the investigation.

“There must be meaningful policy and budget changes to prevent these abuses and subsequent coverups from ever happening again,” Pressley said in her statement. “I am thinking of Mr. White’s victims, the system that failed them, and the healing they deserve.”

Warren echoed those concerns. “Police officers are not above the law. Accountability is crucial, up and down the line,” she said.

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Senator Ed Markey, who is the lead sponsor along with Pressley of legislation to end qualified immunity, has not commented on the new revelations. Neither have two cosponsors of the House bill, Representatives Katherine Clark of Melrose and Jim McGovern of Worcester.

A White House spokesman also declined to comment.

Doug Heye, a Republican political strategist, said it’s not surprising when lawmakers fail to criticize a member of their party.

“There is, unfortunately, a silence that happens when it’s on your own side,” he said. But it’s difficult for Democrats to use that strategy now after several years of criticizing Republicans for not speaking out about the actions of former president Donald Trump, said Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

“That opens the door to the exact same hypocrisy they accuse Republicans of with all things Trump,” Heye said.

But Republicans in Washington also have not seized on a controversy involving a member of Biden’s Cabinet, even after he was the subject of a Wall Street Journal editorial Friday raising questions about another police matter — the Walsh administration’s refusal to release internal affairs records about former Boston police officer Patrick M. Rose Sr.

Rose, who had served as head of the police union, was arrested last summer and charged with multiple counts of indecent assault of a child under 14. The Walsh administration said the records could not be redacted to sufficiently protect the victim’s identity, which is required by law. Janey ordered necessary redactions be made and released the files last month, showing the then-police commissioner was informed in 1996 that investigators believed Rose had sexually abused a child. But Rose was allowed to stay on the job at the time after pushback from the union.

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News of the White controversy broke the night of Feb. 3 when Walsh announced he was placing him on leave and that the city would conduct an outside investigation following Globe inquiries about the handling of a 1999 allegation of domestic violence against White. Walsh’s Senate confirmation hearing took place the next morning, where he was not asked about the matter despite touting his experience running Boston.

No senators raised the issue in debate over his nomination, which was approved 68-29 by the full Senate about six weeks later. Some Republicans said they opposed Walsh, a former union president, because they were concerned he would favor organized labor in his decision-making.

There’s little sign that Republicans are interested in mobilizing against Walsh now that he’s in the Cabinet, even after The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board raised questions about his tenure.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the committee overseeing the Labor Department, said Monday that Walsh’s actions when he was mayor were not relevant.

“I’ll let the Boston guidelines deal with whether he broke them or stayed within them. But he’s secretary of labor and what happened before this shouldn’t impact that,” said Burr, who voted to confirm Walsh. “Anybody that’s had a job as mayor probably has some controversial decisions they’ve made and Marty Walsh would be no different.”

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A Labor Department spokesperson said Walsh was not available for an interview on Monday. The department issued a statement late Friday night defending Walsh from allegations that his administration tried to end the White probe early. Less than two weeks into an investigation expected to take at least four to six weeks, Walsh’s longtime confidante, then-Corporation Counsel Eugene O’Flaherty, told outside investigator Tamsin Kaplan to finish her investigation in two days and provide a final report. A week later, Kaplan was ordered to restart the investigation, the report said.

“When the allegations arose, then-Mayor Walsh immediately placed the individual on leave and commissioned an independent, outside investigation into the matter,” a Labor Department spokesperson said. “In late February, Walsh requested an update on the status of the investigation, in the hopes of sharing its findings with the public and resolving the issue before leaving the mayor’s office. When it became clear that the investigation was ongoing, Walsh directed the investigation to continue, which ultimately led to the report issued today.”

After Friday’s report, some of the candidates running for mayor of Boston delivered indirect criticism of Walsh. None mentioned him by name.

“It is imperative that anyone appointed to high positions must be subjected to a rigorous vetting and thorough background checks,” City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said in a statement. “That clearly wasn’t the case here.”

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Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at jim.puzzanghera@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera.