Friday, May 12, 2006
WHICH IS WORSE, violating the law or pretending to have done so? That's the question posed by the bizarre case of Alphonso Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development and a longtime friend of the president. Two weeks ago, Mr. Jackson said at a business gathering in Dallas that he had canceled a government contract because the contractor criticized President Bush. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president?" Mr. Jackson asked.
That Mr. Jackson would commit an illegal act -- and rescinding government contracts for political reasons is illegal -- was strange. Stranger still was the fact that Mr. Jackson, a former head of the Dallas Housing Authority with many years of government experience, apparently didn't know that such behavior is illegal, since he bragged about it in public. Even more peculiar were the later justifications offered by his spokeswoman, Dustee Tucker, who, speaking as if she knew of the incident, told the Dallas Morning News that the contractor in question had been rude to Mr. Jackson, "trashing, in a very aggressive way," the HUD secretary and the president.
But hold on, because the story took an even more bizarre turn when Mr. Jackson issued a statement declaring that he -- and presumably Ms. Tucker -- had fabricated the entire story. "During my tenure, no contract has ever been rewarded, rejected or rescinded due to the personal or political beliefs of the recipient," he stated. It was, Ms. Tucker added,
"a made-up story," intended to demonstrate how people in Washington "will come in, trash you, trash the president and then ask you for money."
Perhaps, then, Mr. Jackson intended the story as a warning to business executives interested in HUD contracts not to criticize the president? The last time we checked, such veiled threats were also improper. Whatever his intention in telling the story -- and whether the story is true or false -- it appears to lead to only two possible conclusions: Either Mr. Jackson broke the law and then lied about it, or he lied that he had broken the law. Which of those actions makes him fit to be secretary of housing and urban development?