A federal judge on Wednesday said Betsy DeVos must testify in a class-action lawsuit over her handling of loan forgiveness claims.
The Bill Clinton-appointed Northern District of California federal judge William Alsup said “exceptional circumstances” justify the rare deposition of a former Cabinet secretary. The lawsuit is based on 160,000 borrowers who applied to the Education Department for loan forgiveness, on the grounds that they were defrauded by their for-profit colleges.
The Trump administration stopped issuing final decisions on the student borrowers’ claims for 18 months before swiftly dismissing many of those claims without explanation.
DeVos had taken steps to cut the amount of debt relief afforded to defrauded borrowers, as criticisms of the Obama administration’s more permissive approach was characterized as allowing students “free money” from the government.
Judge Alsup said that the credibility of the Trump administration’s explanations and “sparse” documentation of its decision-making were among the “extraordinary circumstances” that warranted DeVos’ testimony. Alsup said it was clear that DeVos had personal involvement in the decisions made.
Interestingly enough, both DeVos and the Biden administration had both requested the judge block the subpoena for testimony.
The Biden administration said that former Cabinet secretaries like DeVos should generally be immune from having to answer questions under oath about their official actions while in government service.
“If judicial process runs to presidents, it runs to Cabinet secretaries — especially former ones,” Alsup wrote, citing two former presidents, Nixon and Clinton, in being forced to respond to subpoenas.