There’s a good reason why the rumored appointment of an assistant secretary in a Cabinet department does not ordinarily generate a political uproar: It’s not a particularly powerful position. In the government hierarchy, an assistant secretary falls below not only the Cabinet secretary, but also the deputy secretary, the under secretary, and a few other senior staffers.
Sheriff David Clarke, however, seems to court controversy whenever he speaks, and to the great dismay of his critics, he might be taking his Trump-era brand of political incorrectness to the Department of Homeland Security. The appointment of the Milwaukee County sheriff as the assistant secretary for public partnership and engagement isn’t official, and it might not even happen: Clarke claimed in a local radio interview that the job was his, but as of Friday afternoon, his would-be boss, DHS Secretary John Kelly, had curiously refused to confirm his hiring. “No such announcement with regard to the Office of Partnership and Engagement has been made,” department spokeswoman Jenny Burke wrote in an email.
Kelly’s hesitation didn’t stop Sebastian Gorka, the White House aide embroiled in his own recent PR troubles, from celebrating Clarke’s news on Twitter. If he got the job, Clarke would be escaping a deepening scandal in Milwaukee, where since the beginning of last year four inmates have died in the jails he is responsible for overseeing. As many as seven officials, including two supervisors, are facing possible charges of neglect in the case of Terrill Thomas, who died from dehydration while in solitary confinement. Moving to Washington would take Clarke out of a position of direct authority into the middle of the federal bureaucracy, where his power would be more diffuse.