From 2008 to 2013, 10 people died in the jail run by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. In 2016, over a six-month period, four people died in his jail, including a newborn baby. One inmate, Terrill Thomas, died of “profound dehydration.” He was heard begging for water in the days before his death. When one of Clarke’s deputies crashed his car into a woman’s vehicle, breaking her neck, his office claimed the victim was intoxicated and threatened her with charges. And this past January, Clarke detained and questioned a man who shook his head at him while on an airplane.
That’s Clarke’s record. His rhetoric isn’t much better. Clarke routinely condemns Black Lives Matter and other activist movements as “terrorists,” at one point warning that BLM was collaborating with the Islamic State group to end representative government in America. After the 2016 election, the sheriff called for mass crackdowns on anti-Trump protesters, and in his book, he advocated rounding up American citizens by the hundreds of thousands and sending them to Guantanamo. He’s been a guest on Alex Jones’ show and a frequent purveyor of conspiracy theories. And as of this week, he says he is an incoming official in the Department of Homeland Security.
I say “he says” because it’s unclear if he’s actually been offered the position. All we have is his announcement that he will “accept an appointment as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security” working in the Office of Partnership and Engagement, where he would help coordinate the department’s outreach to local law enforcement agencies. The actual DHS has yet to confirm this appointment, telling reporters, “No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.”
If Clarke is joining the Trump administration, it wouldn’t be a shock. He’s been a Trump loyalist since the former reality television star launched his campaign in 2015. He spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last year, crisscrossed the country in support of Trump’s presidential campaign, and was a frequent defender of Trump on Fox News and other outlets. Given the president’s obsession with loyalty—an obsession so deep that he reportedly wants to bring retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn back into the administration even as Flynn’s wrongdoing threatens his presidency—it would not be a surprise to learn that Clarke’s announcement was legitimate.
It should go without saying that this is a disaster. Clarke’s record shows he is plainly unqualified for any kind of public service. And in an administration defined by scandal, he invites even further scrutiny. His jail is under investigation for the aforementioned deaths, he has a penchant for racist, over-the-top rhetoric, and he even has unusual ties to the Russian government.
At the moment, “Trump hires unqualified figure” is the “dog bites man” of political news. But as we wade through the endless stream of controversy, we shouldn’t let these relatively small stories fall by the wayside. David Clarke is a dangerous figure with a demonstrated contempt for professionalism, decency, and human life.
Under a typical Republican administration, he’d be a pariah no matter how much he advocated for the president on television. This is not a typical administration. Instead, we have one that cares less about law than it does some draconian vision of order, and that is more interested in rewarding the most heinous of friends than serving the public interest.