HUD official investigating for playing politics with contract

An inspector general is investigating allegations that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson may have improperly considered politics in withholding a federal contract.

But a White House official said on Friday that President George W. Bush was standing by his Cabinet secretary and longtime friend and would withhold judgment on any investigation “at this point.”

Jackson was quoted in the Dallas Business Journal as citing a contractor’s dislike of Bush in describing an incident in which that person was denied a contract.

The report said that Jackson had told a real estate forum: “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.”

Jackson and a spokeswoman later disavowed the comments but Democrats called for an investigation.

“We have received a number of complaints from the public as well as from members of Congress,” said Michael Zerega, spokesman for HUD’s inspector general. “We are reviewing this matter and will look to the facts and any applicable law or requirements.”

Pressed on whether Bush would withhold judgment pending an investigation by the Inspector General’s office, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, “At this point the president is supporting Alphonso Jackson.

“Alphonso Jackson has admitted that what he said earlier was improper, that it was a mistake, and the president accepts that and still supports a man with whom he’s had a long and close relationship,” Snow said.

Two Democratic congressmen, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Henry Waxman of California, wrote to Jackson saying the comments originally reported by Jackson would be “improper and most likely illegal.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, has called for Jackson’s resignation.

HUD spokeswoman Dustee Tucker has said Jackson was speaking anecdotally and offering an example of “how politics works in D.C.” She also said Jackson was not involved in contract decisions at HUD.

(Additional reporting by Kristin Roberts)

© Reuters 2006