David Clarke, Tough-Talking Pro-Trump Sheriff, Claims He Landed DHS Gig

John Raoux/AP
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Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, one of the nation’s most controversial and outspoken local law enforcement officials, claimed Wednesday that he’d accepted a position with the Department of Homeland Security. However, in a tweet shortly after his announcement, DHS appeared to distance itself from Clarke.

Clarke, who spoke at the Republican National Convention last summer, is an outspoken critic of anti-police brutality movements like Black Lives Matter and frequently takes to social media to bolster his tough guy image.

He crowed about accepting a position in the Trump administration in an interview with WISN’s Vicki McKenna.

“I will be leaving the position of sheriff to accept an appointment as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security,” he said. “I’m both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position by Secretary Kelly, working for the Trump administration.”

Neither the White House nor DHS immediately responded Wednesday afternoon to TPM’s requests for comment. Clarke told McKenna that he would be working in the “Office of Partnership and Programs” (he likely meant the Office of Partnership and Engagement), liaising with state, local governments and tribal governments, as well as the private sector and law enforcement.

That position does not require Senate confirmation, which Juliette Kayyem, who served in the same DHS office during the Obama administration, said was a result of the department’s hasty beginnings.

“No one really ever had an incentive to fix it,” she told TPM in an interview. “Maybe they will now.”

“One of the things that I have heard in speaking to several of those entities is they feel they’re being ignored,” Clarke said later in the interview, stressing his experience at the local level.

“If we’re going to be successful in defending this homeland, then we have to make sure that those gaps don’t exist,” he added, referring to information lapses between different levels of government.

Clarke has had a highly controversial tenure as county sheriff, and that may even be an understatement.

On May 1, an inquest jury recommended charges against seven officials at the Milwaukee County Jail, run by Clarke, where inmate Terrill Thomas died of dehydration after officials cut off the water to his cell for seven days straight.

In March, an former inmate sued the same jail for keeping her shackled during childbirth in 2013 — and for every other hospitalization during her pregnancy — due to a jail policy requiring it.

Four people died in the jail last year, the Associated Press reported in March, including the newborn child of another woman, Shadé Swayzer.

Kayyem told TPM that Clarke’s appointment would be “one hostile act to the homeland,” and predicted he would face difficulty working with the wide range of state and local stakeholders that rely upon the office, given his political volatility and inexperience with the federal government.

“I wish I could be in the room when the New York police commissioner, [James P.] O’Neill, sits in a room with him, and Sheriff Clarke starts going off on the needs of our homeland security,” she said. “It’s going to be fun.”

“Sheriff Clarke, objectively, should not be serving in the federal government,” she added separately. “Everything about him is horrifying.”

This post has been updated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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