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Ben Carson accused of ‘witch-hunt’ by senior member of his department

Criticism comes after a week of controversy over Carson’s department spending on expensive office furniture

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Ben Carson accused of ‘witch-hunt’ by senior member of his department” was written by Jamiles Lartey and Jon Swaine, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 6th March 2018 21.14 UTC

A second senior official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development has publicly criticised the secretary, Ben Carson, accusing him of leading a “witch-hunt” against some career bureaucrats in the department.

Marcus Smallwood told Carson in an email on Tuesday that Hud’s civil servants were working in fear after the demotion of his colleague Helen Foster and Carson’s rejection of her claims.

The Guardian revealed last week that Foster had alleged to a federal watchdog that she was reassigned to a lesser role in part because she refused to break a legal spending limit on the redecoration of Carson’s office in Washington. Her demotion is now being examined by the Republican-controlled House oversight committee.

“Helen Foster is not the only person at Hud that has been persecuted in this witch-hunt under your watch,” Smallwood, Hud’s director of records management, wrote in the email, which he shared with the Guardian.

“She is the only person who has been brave enough to stand on principle and put her career, reputation, and livelihood on the line. The rest of us have operated in fear.”

Raffi Williams, a spokesman for Hud, said: “Mr Smallwood’s email is under review.”

Smallwood accused Carson of smearing Foster as a liar by suggesting in a tweet that her allegation was unsubstantiated. In a Facebook post on Monday, Carson further complained without evidence that he had been the victim of “character attacks”.

“A week has gone by and it is now very clear that Helen Foster was not lying about the furniture purchases,” said Smallwood.

After Foster’s complaint was made public, it emerged that Hud had ordered a ,000 dining set for Carson’s office. Hud claimed the set was not subject to the ,000 limit Foster said she sought to uphold, because it was for the benefit of all staff. Carson later asked for the furniture order to be scrapped.

Smallwood asked Carson to make a public apology to Foster and to note “that all employees at Hud should feel free to follow the law, ask when they are unsure, and not fear retribution”.

The email on Tuesday, which was copied to several of Carson’s top deputies, alleged that Hud would probably be unable to comply with the House oversight committee’s request for all emails relating to Foster’s demotion “because there has been a concerted effort to stop email traffic regarding these matters”.

Williams, the Hud spokesman, denied there had been any halt to emails on the topic and said: “The House oversight committee will receive a complete response to their query.”

Smallwood also lent support to a separate allegation by Foster that politically sensitive requests made to the department under the Freedom of Information Act (Foia) were handled unusually.

Foster said that despite overseeing Foia requests for the department, she was sidelined when a pair of requests were made for emails including discussions of Donald Trump. She said she was told by a department lawyer that this was because she was perceived to be a Democrat.

Smallwood told Carson that “undue influence was placed on Helen, and myself to process FOIA request of a political nature in a fashion different from the normal process”.

Smallwood accused Carson and senior Hud managers of reprisals against not only Foster for blowing the whistle on the furniture spending, but also of letting important business go uncompleted due to the interdepartmental feud.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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U.S. Set To Announce New Sanctions On Six Individuals Linked To Hong Kong Mass Arrests

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WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) – The United States is set to announce fresh sanctions on Friday on six individuals connected to the mass arrests earlier this month of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Hong Kong police on Jan. 5 arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo last week warned of fresh sanctions in response to the arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. That warning came a day after supporters of Republican President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 stormed Congress in a bid to overturn his November election defeat, prompting China’s state media to accuse U.S. politicians of “double standards.”

Pompeo also said last week the United States would also explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States.

Action on Friday would come just days before Trump is due to leave office and be succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden next Wednesday and would be the latest in a series targeting China, which analysts see as a bid driven by Pompeo to lock in a tough approach to Beijing.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has pursued hard-line policies toward China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus. Relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when he ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful November re-election campaign.

His administration has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for their actions involving the pro-democracy movement and other alleged rights abuses, and last July declared an end to the territory’s privileged economic status under U.S. law.

The Trump administration took another swipe at China and its biggest companies on Thursday, imposing sanctions on officials and companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and imposing an investment ban on nine more firms.

Last Saturday, Pompeo said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and counterparts in Taiwan, a move that greatly angered Beijing, which considers the island a renegade province. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dead From COVID-19

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.

Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport.

“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”

Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.

“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation,” they said in a statement.

The state’s newest congressman, set to take office in January, was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.

Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

He was to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff and ran with Abraham’s backing for the job.

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow’s family.

“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.”

Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal’s one-time chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, described Letlow on Twitter as “a good man with a kind heart and a passion to serve. He loved Louisiana and his family. He was a brother and I’m heart broken he’s gone.”

Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”

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Trump Adviser Rudy Giuliani Captured In Compromising Position With Woman He Was Told Was A Reporter In ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’

The forthcoming “Borat” sequel reportedly features Rudy Giuliani engaging in provocative behavior with a woman he’d been told was a reporter.

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(The Hill) — The forthcoming “Borat” sequel reportedly features Rudy Giuliani engaging in provocative behavior with a woman he’d been told was a reporter.

The adviser to President Trump appears to have unknowingly participated in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen that is poised to be released Friday on Amazon Prime Video.

According to multiple reports, Giuliani sits down for an interview at a New York hotel with the character Tutar, Borat’s teenage daughter who’s posing as a TV journalist and was played by 24-year-old actress Maria Bakalova.

The 76-year-old former New York mayor is heard complimenting the supposed reporter and following her to a bedroom, where eventually he stretches out on the bed.

Vanity Fair describes the scene captured on hidden cameras, saying of Giuliani, “His hand is in his pants. Watching it, your brain turns into an exclamation point.”

Cohen, as Borat, then reportedly runs into the hotel room sporting a bikini and exclaiming, “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”

Giuliani did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

He told the New York Post in July that he had agreed to participate in what he believed was an interview about the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response.

“This person comes in yelling and screaming,” Giuliani said of Cohen, “and I thought this must be a scam or a shake-down, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away.”

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