by Luke Rosiak
The Department of Labor reinstated a political appointee Wednesday night who resigned under pressure after a Bloomberg Law reporter accused him of anti-Semitism for a Facebook post in which he was actually condemning anti-Semites in the alt-right, the Daily Caller News Foundation exclusively learned.
Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella “personally made this decision after carefully reviewing all the facts and circumstances,” a senior Labor Department official told the DCNF. “He concluded that a correction is much better than an injustice.”
Leif Olson abruptly left the department 18 days after joining the federal government, after moving his family from Texas to take the job. The departure came after Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn contacted the White House and Labor Department about what he portrayed as an anti-Semitic Facebook post from 2016. Penn cropped out in a Tuesday article portions of the exchange that directly referenced it being “epic sarcasm.”
“On Friday, August 30, 2019, senior policy advisor of the Wage and Hour Division Leif Olson offered his resignation and the department accepted,” the department said in a statement to the DCNF. “Following a thorough reexamination of the available information and upon reflection, the department has concluded that Olson has satisfactorily explained the tone and content of his sarcastic social media post and will return to his position.”
A cursory reading of the post showed it to be a condemnation of anti-Semitism and conspiracies on the far-right, coming from the standpoint of the center-right.
Olson resigned within four hours of Penn emailing government officials about the post. It is unclear whether Olson’s supervisor, head of the Wage and Hour Division Cheryl Stanton, pressured him to resign and why the resignation was accepted.
Political pundits across the spectrum condemned Bloomberg and encouraged the Labor Department to reinstate Olson.
Liberal site Vox published a story titled: “How mocking anti-Semitism got a Trump official falsely accused of actual anti-Semitism. You don’t have to agree with Leif Olson’s politics to think this situation is ridiculous.”
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote there was no “excuse for Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn. … Those ‘anti-Semitic’ posts are plainly sarcastic, rendering them not anti-Semitic.”
Bloomberg quoted Jake Hyman, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), saying, “The post in question is clearly anti-Semitic.” It’s unclear whether ADL looked into the matter. “We appreciate Mr. Olson’s clarification that he intended to be sarcastic with his posts and accept his explanation of the content in question,” ADL said after an inquiry from the Post.
Olson wrote a public Facebook post in August 2016 mocking Paul Nehlen, an anti-Semitic, alt-right candidate who challenged then-House Speaker Paul Ryan in the Wisconsin Republican primary. It said, “Establishment insider RINO corporate tool Paul Ryan was finally brought to heel in tonight’s primary election. … The guy just suffered a massive, historic, emasculating 70-point victory.”
Since the opposite happened — Ryan trounced Nehlen in a landslide — everything that followed could only be read as tongue-in-cheek.
When a Facebook user played along with the sarcasm, saying Ryan is “a Jew. Everyone knows that,” Olson responded, “It must be true because I’ve never seen the Lamestream Media report it, and you know they protect their own.”
Penn apparently misinterpreted a comically exaggerated version of the far-right’s heated language to be the way a Trump appointee genuinely spoke.
Penn quoted Olson explaining that “It was sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions,” but still referred to the post as anti-Semitic.
Penn used it to paint a narrative about the Trump administration, tweeting, “This is the latest in a series of mishaps under the Trump administration personnel vetting system.”
Bloomberg declined to retract the story, in part citing that Olson was no longer working at the department as an admission of guilt.
“We stand behind our reporting,” spokesman David Peikin told the Post. “We contacted the White House and the Department of Labor asking for comment on Mr. Olson’s Facebook posts. Within four hours, the Department of Labor responded that Mr. Olson had resigned.”
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Luke Rosiak is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.