A Department of Housing and Urban Development employee is coming to the defense of a whistleblower whose sworn complaint threw HUD into the spotlight last week, and making new allegations against the agency.
Marcus Smallwood, the director of Records and Information Management, wrote a blistering open letter to Secretary Ben Carson Tuesday, accusing him of participating in a “smear campaign” against staffer Helen Foster.
In a sworn November 2017 complaint that surfaced last week, Foster alleged she was demoted in part for refusing to spend more than was legally allowed to redecorate Carson’s new office. On March 22, 2017, just 20 days into Carson’s tenure at HUD, Foster says she received a perfect score on an employee review, but four months later, she said she was demoted and reassigned to oversee privacy and Freedom of Information Act requests.
Smallwood claimed that Carson contributed to a “smear campaign” against Foster with comments last week, including saying that her claims are unsubstantiated.
“Thank you to so many who have expressed concern for me and my family over the latest accusations. Rest assured that there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing by us,” Carson wrote on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts last week. “All the numbers and evidence are being gathered and a full disclosure is forthcoming. We suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation. We will continue to ask for God’s guidance to do what is right.”
But HUD’s spokesman Raffi Williams said that agency officials haven’t officially commented on Foster’s allegations, adding that it is HUD’s policy to not comment on pending cases against the agency.
And although he provided a statement to CNN last week after Foster’s allegations went public, Williams told CNN he “commented on what was spent on blinds for the Secretary’s office, not on Ms. Foster’s complaint itself.”
“The social media posts you reference do not constitute an official response from the agency,” Williams added.
In his letter, Smallwood demands to know when Carson will apologize to Foster and reinstate her in her role at HUD.
“Helen Foster is not the only person at HUD that has been persecuted in this witch-hunt under your watch,” Smallwood wrote. “She is the only person who has been brave enough to stand on principle and put her career, reputation, and livelihood on the line.”
Williams said Foster is expected to return to HUD after her detail with the Treasury Department is complete. He added that the agency is complying with the Office of Special Counsel, which is looking into Foster’s complaint.
Foster tells CNN she made the transfer request due to retaliation against her at HUD.
Smallwood also made additional accusations about the climate at the agency.
“The rest of us have operated in fear,” Smallwood said. “I have had my subordinates and peers also suffer from retribution as leadership has run this campaign against Helen.”
Smallwood argued that multiple HUD employees or new hires had “job selections withdrawn after accepting verbal offers for no other reason (that I can see), then that they were or would become subordinates of Helen.”
He accused HUD of compromising the process in which the agency responds to FOIA requests. He claimed he was pressured to process requests of “political nature in a fashion different from the normal process” and approve overtime to employees handling those requests.
HUD responded to Smallwood’s accusation that the agency often receives FOIAs of a political nature “and they are handled in our normal process.”
In a letter addressed to Carson last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy requested HUD turn over all documents and communications related to Foster dating back to August 2017 and Carson’s office redecoration dating back to the beginning of last year.
Smallwood wrote in his letter that he does “not have confidence that HUD can truthfully provide the evidence” to the committee by next Wednesday, the deadline the committee gave to HUD.
He said that “there has been a concerted effort to stop email traffic regarding these matters prior to August 1” and recommended that the House committee search emails going back to December 1, 2016 regarding Foster.
In response to that accusation, Williams said: “The House Oversight Committee will receive a complete response to their query. We can assure you that email traffic at HUD did not cease on August 1.”
CNN’s Sara Ganim contributed to this report.