OPM nominee deflects questions about conspiracy tweets
- By Adam Mazmanian
- Sep 10, 2020
John Gibbs, the nominee to lead the Office of Personnel Management, largely escaped criticism over a history of controversial tweets and statements critical of Islam and pushing conspiracy theories tying a senior Democratic party operative to satanic rituals in his Sept. 10 confirmation hearing.
Lawmakers from both parties on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee addressed the history of controversial and even bizarre commentary, which was unearthed in 2018 by CNN when Gibbs was serving as a senior advisor at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Gibbs is currently HUD's acting assistant secretary for community planning and development.
As a conservative commentator, Gibbs tweeted several times about an unsubstantiated and debunked claim that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, participated in a dinner at which bodily fluids were ritualistically consumed.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) came closest to pressing Gibbs on the details of his past commentary. Gibbs, for his part, didn't see the need to walk back any particular tweet or utterance.
"With regard to what you mentioned, an individual wrote a book and invited someone to a dinner. That is what we know. As a political commentator, I reported on that at the time," Gibbs said in response to a question from Romney that touched on the accusations of Satanism in the Clinton campaign.
Gibbs also said "that is something that is behind me; that is not my current role," adding, "I can assure you, I have led in a non-partisan fashion over the past three years during my service to the government, and if confirmed as OPM director, I would continue to lead in a non-partisan fashion."
Many times Gibbs alluded to his own experiences with racism and prejudice as a Black American in the U.S. and during his time as a Christian missionary in Japan, where he said he had been subject to discrimination and even refused service in restaurants.
"With my personal experience, I have actually lived diversity. It runs in my blood. It runs through our family.… Any kind of disparaging or discriminatory treatment toward people of other backgrounds is something I have never tolerated in my life, and I will absolutely never tolerate that if confirmed as director," Gibbs said.
Romney and other lawmakers didn't press Gibbs on how his current posture jibes with his history of tweets, now private, that defended anti-Semitic Twitter personalities and took aim at the current Democratic party as being for "Islam, gender-bending, anti-police, 'u racist!'"
Gibbs signaled in a July interview with the Washington Examiner that he had nothing to apologize for in his history as a political commentator.
"I was a commentator at the time, I was commentating on popular issues at the time," Gibbs told the newspaper. "For [critics] to see a black conservative in a prominent position is a threat to their narrative that Republicans are racist and they all hate black people," he said.
In addition to tweeting, Gibbs wrote frequently for the right-wing website the Federalist and appeared on television. His essays from 2016 were in support of Donald Trump's candidacy and frequently looked at identity politics and racial issues.
Gibbs was on more comfortable ground with questions regarding technology modernization. A former software engineer with a computer science degree from Stanford, Gibbs said that basic infrastructure would be "a high priority for modernization" and said that in his current role as HUD's acting assistant secretary for community planning and development, he had overseen a push to migrate some agency processes that were still being conducted on paper to digital. Gibbs said his shop hadn't fully modernized but made strides.
"We went from 1990 to 2010," in term of technology, Gibbs said. "We still have a little ways to go, but I think we're moving in the right direction."
Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.
Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.
Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.