“I’m both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position,” he said during the interview with WISN Milwaukee.
But DHS officials declined Wednesday to confirm a pending appointment.
A spokesman for Clarke confirmed to The Post that the sheriff will step down to be appointed to the position, which he expects to begin sometime in June.
“Basically he’ll be the liaison between DHS and different types of law enforcement,” said Craig Peterson, a spokesman for Clarke. “He’s probably not going to say much more until the official announcement, but he’s excited.”
Federal officials have yet to confirm that Clarke will receive an appointment. A person familiar with the matter said nothing has been announced internally yet, but DHS employees have been told the decision has been made to hire Clarke and all that’s left to make it official is the completion of some paperwork at the White House.
A DHS spokesperson said the job Clarke says he has taken “is a Secretarial appointment. Such senior positions are announced by the Department when made official by the Secretary. No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.”
Even though it does not require Senate confirmation, a position of this stature and a hire as controversial as this one would need to be vetted by the White House Office of Presidential Personnel at the least and by other top officials at the White House, who would have submitted Clarke’s paperwork for vetting by the FBI and the Office of Government Ethics.
Officials at the White House did not immediately return requests for comment. A spokesman for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees DHS, declined to comment.
Clarke was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump during last year’s election and a speaker at the Republican National Convention. During the transition between the campaign and the beginning of the Trump administration his name was floated as a potential Homeland Security secretary, although political insiders suggested he would face difficulty being placed in any seat that required Senate confirmation. While elected to the sheriff’s office as a Democrat, Clarke is considered a conservative firebrand who relishes the criticism generated by his political stances.
In interviews and speeches in recent years, he has compared the Black Lives Matter protest movement to KKK, and speculated that it will join forces with the Islamic State to overthrow the U.S. government and has said that anti-Trump protesters were “anarchists” who “must be quelled.” Black Americans, Clarke has said, sell drugs “because they’re uneducated, they’re lazy, and they’re morally bankrupt.”
In 2015, Clarke traveled with leaders of the NRA and met with top Russian officials including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was sanctioned by the U.S. after the Russian incursion in Ukraine. According to financial disclosures filed by Clarke in Wisconsin, his trip was partly funded by a Russian gun rights group.
And Clarke’s management of the Milwaukee County Jail has drawn national scrutiny.
At least four people died in Clarke’s jail between April 2015 and Nov. 2016, including a newborn baby who had been born inside the jail without the jail staff knowing. Seven jail staffers could face the possibility of criminal charges in connection to another of those deaths, that of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas, who was died after being deprived of water for seven days.
In January, he was involved in an altercation with a man who approached him during a flight from Dallas to Milwaukee. According to Don Black, he approached and asked “are you Sheriff Clarke?” When the sheriff said yes, Black says he shook his head and walked away. But, when the plane landed, Black claims, he was met by six deputies and two K-9 units from the sheriff’s department who questioned him about the interaction and then escorted out of the airport.
When Black filed a formal complaint about the incident, Clarke posted the complaint on the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Facebook page, accompanied with a threat.
“Next time he or anyone else pulls this stunt on a plane they may get knocked out,” Clarke wrote. “The Sheriff said he does not have to wait for some goof to assault him. He reserves the reasonable right to pre-empt a possible assault.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which with the Legal Aid Society has a long-running lawsuit against the jail over conditions of prisoner confinement, has battled with Clarke for years.
“Sheriff Clarke has never shown himself to be particularly interested in working well with others,” said Larry Dupuis, the ACLU’s legal director in Wisconsin. “Public engagement is an innocuous-sounding position, but I don’t really think it is. He can do damage.”
Devlin Barrett and Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.