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Senate Democrats press Carson over hiring of HUD lawyer with ‘history of racist and sexist statements’

Posted at 8:23 AM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-02 10:23:19-04

Senate Democrats are raising concerns about the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recent hiring of a lawyer who they say has “a history of racist and sexist statements that appear to have contributed” to his resignation from a federal agency.

In a letter sent last Thursday to Secretary Ben Carson, six senators, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, requested information pertaining to the hiring of Eric Blankenstein, who recently joined HUD as a senior counsel in the department’s Office of General Counsel, according to the letter.

Blankenstein, the senators wrote, resigned in May as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s policy director for the agency’s Division of Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending. The resignation came after the agency’s Inspector General initiated last fall an inquiry into statements Blankenstein had previously made, according to the letter.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that Blankenstein resigned “after blog posts he wrote in 2004 as a University of Virginia law student surfaced in which he repeatedly used a racial slur.”

“In a more recent exchange, (Blankenstein) argued that the movement to deny that President Barack Obama was born in the United States was not racist,” the paper said, adding that one of the posts he made “suggested that someone who uses a racial slur for a black person is not necessarily racist.”

According to the Times, Blankenstein never apologized for the posts, and that when they came to light, “he said the incident gave him no insight into how he should perform his job.”

The department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on Tuesday.

In their letter to Carson, the senators wrote that the department, like the agency, “plays a critical role enforcing key civil rights laws addressing some of the financial harms of systemic racism in the credit, mortgage, and housing markets.”

Blankenstein’s “appointment at HUD raises serious concerns about the process by which this Administration and HUD evaluates candidates for employment at this Department,” the letter states. The senators included seven questions to the department about the hiring to be answered by July 11, including one about whether individuals in the White House “suggest(ed) or request(ed)” that Blankenstein be hired.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who previously served as the temporary head of the agency, “was ideologically aligned with the conservative Mr. Blankenstein” and “knew about the appointment and supported it,” the Times reported, citing conversations with three senior administration officials with knowledge of the situation.

The Times also said that Carson, who had the power to prevent Blankenstein from getting the position, did not stand in the way of his hiring, and “prepared to be grilled about it before appearing before congressional committees” though “the topic was never discussed in depth,” according to a department aide the paper spoke to.

“We all are human, we all make mistakes and learn from them — especially 15 years later — and we all deserve second chances,” Carson said in a statement to the Times. “Eric’s impressive career and experience will be a great asset to the agency.”