Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke bails on Trump administration job

The notoriously draconian sheriff was offered a senior Homeland Security job six weeks ago.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

David Clarke will not, in fact, join President Donald Trump’s administration as a senior Department of Homeland Security employee drawing a $180,000 salary.

Clarke had initially accepted an offer to serve as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for an office that handles federal-local law enforcement partnerships when it was offered to him in early May. He called backsies over the weekend, rescinding his acceptance formally to Secretary John Kelly.

“Sheriff Clarke is 100 percent committed to the success of President Trump and believes his skills could be better utilized to promote the president’s agenda in a more aggressive role,” Clarke adviser Craig Peterson said in a statement.

An offer letter dated May 5 noted that Clarke’s hiring required the approval of the Office of Personnel Management and a wide-ranging financial disclosure process. Clarke’s “ appointment had been subject to significant delays that contributed to his withdrawal,” the Washington Post reported Saturday, citing an unnamed source “close to the administration who is familiar with the situation.”

Clarke’s decision followed a Tuesday meeting with Trump in Wisconsin in which “they discussed other roles in which Clarke could support Trump,” the Post noted. Clarke has a long and close history with the president, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), and the right-wing media.


The job Clarke accepted and then abandoned would have meant nearly a $50,000 annual pay raise from his current salary as sheriff for Milwaukee County.

His decision also means Clarke will stay home to face a still-unfurling ethics investigation tied to his conduct following an encounter with a civilian on an airplane in 2016. Clarke texted colleagues to instruct sheriff’s deputies to interrogate the passenger, Dan Black, after he allegedly stared Clarke down while shaking his head slowly aboard the plane.

Clarke told his employees to only arrest Black if “he becomes an asshole with your guys.” In response to a lawsuit filed by Black, Clarke’s lawyers described Black’s staredown as “physically threatening” to the sheriff, whose reputation is largely built on caustic tough-guy schtick directed toward liberal ideas.

The auditor for Milwaukee County is currently investigating Clarke’s decision to sic deputies on Black as a potential “waste or abuse of county resources.” After County Executive Chris Abele heard that Clarke had decided to stay put as sheriff, he called on Clarke to resign that job as well.

“I urge Sheriff Clarke to submit his resignation and allow Milwaukee to turn the page,” Abele said.

In response, Clarke chalked Abele’s statement up to personal animus. “I will resign right after that little mouse does,” Clarke said.


Black’s lawsuit and the ongoing dust-up with county officials are just two items from a longer list of scandals facing Clarke back in Wisconsin.

The least serious is that he is accused of plagiarism for failing to use quotation marks properly in his master’s thesis in 2013.

The most damning ones involve the jails Clarke oversees. One lawsuit against his office blames Clarke’s team for the death of a child born on the floor of one of his cells. Another claims his deputies forced pregnant women to give birth while in shackles that encircle the waist, against the advice of medical staff.

Clarke’s employees also allegedly killed a man housed in Clarke’s jail by denying him water for a full week. A grand jury earlier this year found probable cause to indict five deputies and two jail administrators in Terrill Thomas’s death.

Prosecutors have yet to decide if they will file charges in Thomas’ case, but they presented information to the grand jury suggesting Clarke’s jailers have a pattern of punishing disobedient inmates by cutting off tap water to their cells.