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May 10, 2006
Jackson: You Can Trust Me Now

After telling a Dallas audience that he had killed a deal with a contractor because of his political affiliation, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson found himself in the middle of a firestorm of criticism. After several House and Senate members called for an investigation into Jackson's contract awards practices at HUD and demanded his resignation, Jackson now denies he ever denied any contract on the basis of politics. In a press release at the HUD website, Jackson does his best Emily Litella impression by essentially saying, "Never mind":

I deeply regret the anecdotal remarks I made at a recent Texas small business forum and would like to reassure the public that all HUD contracts are awarded solely on a stringent merit-based process. During my tenure, no contract has ever been awarded, rejected, or rescinded due to the personal or political beliefs of the recipient.

In other words, Jackson wants to have everyone believe that he lied to small business forum that invited him to speak in his capacity as a Cabinet-level government official. This is a strange defense indeed, but the only one left to Jackson. He could have denied ever saying it, but any number of audience members would have swiftly contradicted him. Jackson wants to rehabilitate his credibility by admitting to being, frankly, a liar.

These leaves us two possibilities. The first option is that Jackson is lying now to avoid an investigation and possible prosecution, if such actions violate federal laws. This tactic would give Jackson his only hope of succeeding; he would hope to dial the heat down by seeming a fool rather than a crooked administrator. It seems unlikely that Jackson can unring the bell here, however, especially in this hyperpartisan atmosphere. HUD has long had a reputation as an ethical sewer even before this, as CQ commenters have well remarked, and any investigation would probably bring something embarrassing to light.

In this scenario, the Bush administration would do best to unload Jackson as soon as possible, firing him if Jackson will not resign.

The second is that Jackson is telling the truth now and lied in Texas. That calls into question exactly what he had in mind by telling that supposedly false anecdote. After all, this was not a GOP fundraiser; this was a nonpartisan business conference, which asked Jackson to discuss the efforts at HUD in outreach to minority businesses. Given that the GOP have had limited success in attracting voters from African-Americans, the only purpose of telling that kind of a fib would be to intimidate the businessmen into supporting the Republican Party if they wanted any chance of getting a contract with HUD, and perhaps any other government agency.

This scenario provides scant improvement over the first. It would reveal Jackson as a blowhard, a bully, and a fool. He has thrown away his credibility; what group would believe him when he spoke with them now? That may excuse Jackson from criminality, but not from stupidity. And in this case as well, Jackson needs to go, and go quickly.

I just don't see any other excuse for Jackson. He's either lying now or lied then, and both cases present nothing but career-limiting circumstances.

UPDATE: The New York Times juxtaposes the two versions nicely:

An account of Mr. Jackson's speech in the May 5-11 issue of The Dallas Business Journal has him describing someone who had been trying for a decade to land a contract with the housing department.

"He made a heck of a proposal and was on the G.S.A. list, so we selected him," the secretary said, alluding to the Government Services Administration.

Mr. Jackson then recalled how the publisher came to see him in Washington to thank him and how the man then volunteered, "I don't like President Bush."

"He didn't get the contract," Mr. Jackson told the real estate forum, according to the Dallas publication. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

But in a statement this afternoon, Mr. Jackson said, "I deeply regret the anecdotal remarks," adding that during his tenure "no contract has ever been rewarded, rejected or rescinded due to the personal or political beliefs of the recipient." He said his agency was committed to awarding contracts "on a stringent, merit-based process."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Jackson told the business journal on Tuesday that his story was just meant to illustrate how some people in Washington "will unfairly characterize the president and then turn around and ask you for money." The spokeswoman, Dustee Tucker, said the secretary "did not actually meet with someone and turn down a contract."

Sorry, those two stories are absolutely irreconcilable. The only accomplishment Jackson achieved today was to muddy the particulars, but the issue comes down to either lying now or lying then -- and in either case, he should no longer serve on the Cabinet.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 10, 2006 9:38 PM

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