Allegations of anti-Semitism have surfaced against one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, raising further questions about the guidance the Republican presidential nominee is receiving.
Joseph Schmitz, named as one of five advisers by the Trump campaign in March, is accused of bragging when he was Defense Department inspector general a decade ago that he pushed out Jewish employees.
The revelations feed two themes that his opponent Hillary Clinton has used to erode Trump’s credibility: That he is a foreign policy neophyte, and that his campaign, at times, has offended Jews and other minorities.
Schmitz, who is a lawyer in private practice in Washington, says the allegations against him are lies. All three people who have cited the remarks, including one who testified under oath about them, have pending employment grievances with the federal government.
Daniel Meyer, a senior official within the intelligence community, described Schmitz’s remarks in his complaint file.
“His summary of his tenure’s achievement reported as ‘…I fired the Jews,’ ” wrote Meyer, a former official in the Pentagon inspector general’s office whose grievance was obtained by McClatchy.
Meyer, who declined to comment about the matter, cited in his complaint another former top Pentagon official, John Crane, as the source and witness to the remarks. Crane worked with Schmitz, who served as inspector general between April 2002 and September 2005.
I am quite proud of the Jewish heritage of my wife of 38 years. Joseph Schmitz
In his complaint, Meyer said Crane also said Schmitz played down the extent of the Holocaust.
“In his final days, he allegedly lectured Mr. Crane on the details of concentration camps and how the ovens were too small to kill 6 million Jews,” wrote Meyer, whose complaint is before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).
Schmitz said that Crane was the source of other false accusations against him.
“The allegations are completely false and defamatory,” Schmitz said in an interview Tuesday.
“I do not recall ever even hearing of any ‘allegations of anti-Semitism against [me],’ which would be preposterously false and defamatory because, among other reason(s), I am quite proud of the Jewish heritage of my wife of 38 years,” he wrote in an email.
Later in a phone interview, he said his wife was not a practicing Jew but “ethnically Jewish” because her maternal grandmother was a Jew.
Meyer, who previously oversaw the Defense Department’s decisions on whistleblowing cases, said he could not comment because his case is still pending. Meyer is now the Obama administration’s top official overseeing how intelligence agencies handle whistleblower complaints.
Crane would not comment directly about his conversation with Schmitz but said, “if, when, I am required to testify under oath in a MSPB hearing, I would then comment on the statement attributed to me by Mr. Meyer.”
“Statements made under oath at the request of a judge in a formal proceeding would also remove my vulnerability to any potential civil litigation by any party involved in the filings by Mr. Meyer,” he added.
Crane’s lawyer, Andrew Bakaj, also refuted Schmitz’s charges about Crane. He said Crane “has had no association or involvement with any of the numerous news accounts challenging the actions or decisions made by Mr. Schmitz when he was Inspector General.”
The anti-Semitic allegations have also become part of another case.
David Tenenbaum, an Army engineer at the Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) in Warren, Michigan, is now citing the allegations in a letter this week to Acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine as new evidence that current and former Pentagon officials helped perpetrate an anti-Semitic culture within the military that left him vulnerable.
“The anti-Semitic environment began under a prior Inspector General, Mr. Joseph Schmitz,” the letter from Tenenbaum’s lawyer Mayer Morganroth of Birmingham, Mich., states.
Trump’s campaign did not return multiple calls and emails over a week about Schmitz.
Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, has campaigned on his lack of foreign policy experience. Trump has said he relies on news talk shows to inform himself about foreign affairs – a remark that Clinton has turned into a TV attack ad. Earlier this week, he called for “extreme vetting” of immigrants to determine whether they share American values – a softening of his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.
There are many around him, and I would include Schmitz in there, who I don’t know at all. Where do they come from? Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
Trump himself was accused of being anti-Semitic when he told the Republican Jewish Coalition in December: “I’m a negotiator, like you folks.”
Trump also retweeted an image of what appeared to be a Star of David surrounded by cash.
His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has publicly defended him, saying that as a Jew and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he has never found Trump to be anti-Semitic. Kushner is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism.
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff during the George W. Bush administration to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he was “very worried about what the candidate says from time to time and the nature of the people who are around him.”
“There are many around him, and I would include Schmitz in there, who I don’t know at all,” he added. “Where do they come from?”
Schmitz has spoken on behalf of the Trump campaign as recently as the end of July. In interviews, he has said he has helped write one of Trump’s foreign policy speeches and that Trump consults his advisers regularly.
The Trump campaign recently denied that Trump has relied on the advice of one of the five foreign policy advisers he named in March: Carter Page, an investor in Gazprom, the Russian energy giant.
The campaign earlier this month described Page as an “informal foreign policy adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign” after an Aug. 5 Washington Post story revealed Page had publicly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tom Marino, a Trump supporter and member of the House Homeland Security and House Foreign Affairs committees, defended Trump’s advisers.
“I have the utmost confidence in that foreign policy group,” said Marino, who attended a two-hour meeting with Trump’s foreign policy brain trust Wednesday at New York’s Trump Tower. “We just finished a meeting with 25 men and women who are experts, expert-ish in foreign policy,” Marino added. “There were some real heavyweight people.”
The allegations against Schmitz are in Meyer’s employment grievance that was filed in June with the MSPB, which decides such cases filed by federal employees. In the complaint, Meyer alleges former and current Defense Department Inspector General officials discriminated against him as a gay man and retaliated against him for investigating and reporting misconduct by high-level Pentagon officials.
Crane, a former assistant Defense Department inspector general, resigned in 2013 when he learned he was going to be fired after an administrative inquiry. He filed a whistleblower disclosure saying retaliation had forced his resignation. The disclosure is still before the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates such complaints.
The letter from Tenenbaum’s lawyer Mayer Morganroth also alleges Schmitz made remarks about firing Jews and playing down the extent of the Holocaust, citing a “sworn statement” from an unnamed source with knowledge of the Tenenbaum case.
A federal official with knowledge of the matter told McClatchy that Crane testified, under oath, about anti-Semitic remarks Schmitz made to him. Crane was interviewed in at least two investigations involving Pentagon inspector general officials.
Schmitz was accused of shielding Bush administration officials from investigations, including an inquiry into a Boeing contract. He was cleared of the allegations.
Schmitz left the government to become general counsel of the parent company of the defense contractor then known as Blackwater.
A fellow Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, was one of Schmitz’s biggest critics.
Grassley, for example, complained to the Pentagon about Schmitz’s plans to send Pentagon officials to an event in Germany honoring Baron Friedrich Von Steuben, a Prussian-born Army officer who served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
Schmitz, who speaks German, was described as fascinated with Von Steuben, who was known as the nation’s first U.S. inspector general.
He would not say anything negative or pejorative about any ethnic group. Bart Buechner, Joseph Schmitz’s former military assistant
Schmitz’s father, the late Republican Congressman John Schmitz who represented California, was a fervent anti-Communist and drew criticism in 1981 for remarks about Jews, including his press release that called the audience at abortion hearings “a sea of hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces."
Bart Buechner, Joseph Schmitz’s former military assistant at the inspector general’s office, said he had frequent contact with Schmitz and never witnessed any anti-Semitism.
“He would not say anything negative or pejorative about any ethnic group,” Buechner said.
Former Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney, who served during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, said he was surprised to hear Trump picked Schmitz as his adviser.
“I was shocked,” Devaney said. “In fact, a bunch of us former inspectors general called each other when we saw the news, and we couldn’t stop laughing because it was so ridiculous that someone so odd and out of the mainstream would be selected, particularly for that position.”
Tenenbaum, who is alleging officials in the Pentagon inspector general’s office contributed to anti-Semitism against him, was targeted as an Israeli spy by the Army, which launched a criminal investigation of him.
Bridget Serchak, a Pentagon inspector general’s office spokeswoman, declined to comment on the case. Her office concluded in 2008 that Tenenbaum had been singled out for “unusual and unwelcome scrutiny because of his faith” as an Orthodox Jew.
His treatment from 1992 to 1997, the inspector general’s report concluded, amounted to discrimination.
Tenenbaum got his security clearance back and it was even increased to top secret. He was never charged with any wrongdoing. In his letter this week to Pentagon authorities, he asked the inspector general to review his case because he said the office never intervened on his behalf.
“... In light of the information recently obtained, (we) believe your office has and continues to engage in discriminatory behavior,” his lawyer wrote.
Though Schmitz left the government in 2005, he has inserted himself in public affairs often through writing editorials and giving speeches.
Schmitz spoke to law students in March 2015 at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in a forum about communism and its impact on society.
Renwei Chung, a student who took notes of Schmitz’s speech, said it appeared to him that Schmitz was calling Obama a communist. He described how Schmitz held up the book: “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis – The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor” and said to the forum, “The Chinese worship Mao. They have pictures of Mao everywhere. Do you know who the second most popular person in China is? Obama. … Why is that?”
Jeffrey Kahn, a professor who also spoke at the forum, said the encounter with Schmitz left him “chilled.”
Kahn wrote in an opinion piece published in July in the Dallas Morning News that “I had witnessed a ghost from McCarthy's staff,” a reference to former Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was obsessed with exposing communists in the 1950s.
“What foreign policy advice will Schmitz whisper into Trump's ear?” Kahn wrote. “I shudder to think what he might do in such a position of power.”
An earlier photo that accompanied this story misidentified Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania. The photo has been removed.