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
Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow
The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.
The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan.
The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.
In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.
Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.
“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President
(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.
Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.
Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.
It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.
Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.
Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.
California Governor Formally Appoints Alex Padilla To Fill US Senate Seat Vacated By Kamala Harris
(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted the appointment of Alex Padilla to the US Senate today, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Padilla formally resigned as Secretary of State this morning and Gov. Newsom also submitted his nomination letter for Assembly member Shirley Weber to replace him. The Deputy Secretary of State, James Schwab, will be the Acting Secretary of State.
“It is fitting that on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a civil rights icon who fought for justice and representation — we also move forward the appointment of California’s first Latino U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the nomination of Dr. Shirley Weber who will serve as the first-ever African American Secretary of State. Both will be strong defenders of our democracy during this fragile moment in our nation’s history,” said Gov. Newsom.
“I am humbled and honored by your trust in me to represent California in the United States Senate. I look forward to continuing to serve the great State of California as a United States Senator and to ensuring that the rights and democratic principles we cherish are protected and preserved for all people,” Padilla wrote in a letter to Gov. Newsom.
Some context: Earlier today, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris formally resigned her seat as one of California’s US Senators. She’ll be inaugurated as vice president on Wednesday, Jan. 20. In a farewell addressed posted to Twitter, Harris said, “Of course, I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m now saying hello as your vice president.”