WASHINGTON — Two senior Republican senators are demanding the Obama administration provide Congress with records explaining how suspected Nazi war criminals were paid millions in Social Security benefits and the role the Justice Department played in the program.
In letters to be publicly released Tuesday, Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah cited an Associated Press investigation published in October that revealed that the benefits have been paid to dozens of former Nazis after they were forced out of the United States.
Grassley and Hatch back legislation to strip former Nazis of their Social Security benefits.
The Social Security Administration refused AP's request that it provide the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts. AP appealed the agency's denial of the information through the Freedom of Information Act.
In a related development, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill that would shut the loophole that permitted the Social Security payments to be made. The legislation garnered heavy bipartisan support and a companion measure was introduced in the Senate.
The bills would terminate benefits for Nazi suspects who have lost their American citizenship, a step called denaturalization. U.S. law currently mandates a higher threshold — a final order of deportation — before Social Security benefits can be terminated.
In the new Congress that begins in late January, Grassley will be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Hatch will helm the Senate Finance Committee.
Their letters, dated December 1, were sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Carolyn Colvin, the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
AP's investigation found that the Justice Department used a loophole in the law to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. in exchange for Social Security benefits. If they agreed to go voluntarily, or simply fled the country before being deported, they could keep their benefits. The Justice Department denied using Social Security payments as a way to expel former Nazis.
Former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger, who fled the United States in 1989 and lives in Croatia, collects a Social Security payment of about $1,500 a month.
The White House and the Social Security Administration signaled support for denying benefits to former Nazis following AP's report. The Justice Department said it is open to considering proposals that would terminate the Social Security payments.
Grassley and Hatch are seeking broad categories of data — such as the total number of Nazis who received Social Security benefits and the dollar amount of those payments — and details about specific cases. For example, they want to know if a former SS unit commander named Michael Karkoc, whom the AP located last year in Minnesota, would be able to retain his benefits even if removed to another country.
They're also requesting copies of communications between the Justice Department and Social Security Administration and the Justice Department and State Department regarding Nazi suspects who left the United States. AP reported that the State Department and the Social Security Administration voiced serious concerns over the methods used by the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations.
Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin and investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.