Trump Labor Official Gets Job Back After Backlash Over Smear Piece That Appeared to Lead to Resignation

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
September 5, 2019 Updated: September 5, 2019

A labor official in the President Donald Trump administration was reinstated this week after an investigation spurred by a Bloomberg Law article about comments he made on Facebook three years ago.

Bloomberg Law published the article claiming Leif Olson made anti-semitic posts on the social media platform. Reporter Ben Penn said that he requested comments from the White House and Department of Labor about the posts and four hours later, the department said Olson resigned.

Olson, 43, had started at his job in the department on Aug. 12.

Olson made a post mocking Paul Nehlen, a Congressional candidate who lost badly to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). “Establishment insider RINO [Republican in Name Only] corporate tool Paul Ryan was finally brought to heel in tonight’s primary election by an uprising of the conservative masses of Real America eager for an authentic voice in Washington instead of the same tired globalist open-borders pap they’ve been pushing on us since the Elites abandoned the people,” he wrote, appearing to allude to some of the language Nehlen used in a mocking manner.

“The guy just suffered a massive, historic emasculating 70-point victory. Let’s see him and his Georgetown cocktail-party puppetmasters try to walk that one off,” he added.

In the comments, Olson continued posting about Ryan, joking that he’s Jewish even though he’s a Catholic.

A day later, Olson said a number of people asked him what he meant by the post.

“I was talking about garbage like this, written unironically and featured, the night before Ryan’s 84-16 percent primary win, on the front page of what was, just a short time ago, a trustworthy source of opinion journalism.”

He then quoted a Breitbart writer who claimed that Ryan “has been brought to his knees, bowing down before the almighty nationalist populist movement, as his life’s work—a career in politics—flashes before his eyes.”

“It was sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions,” Olson added to Bloomberg, which sent the posts to the Department of Labor.

Penn, the reporter, took to Twitter to write: “This is the latest in a series of mishaps under the Trump administration personnel vetting system. What makes this one remarkable is that Olson’s Facebook page was public to his non-friends. Any cursory screening of his social media accounts could’ve uncovered the anti-Semitism.”

In a statement on Sept. 4, the department said that Olson was reinstated.

“Following a thorough reexamination of the available information and upon reflection, the Department has concluded that Mr. Olson has satisfactorily explained the tone of the content of his sarcastic social media posts and will return to his position in the Wage and Hour Division.”

The Department of Labor did not respond to a request for comment asking if it regretted accepting Olson’s resignation or if it had issues with Bloomberg’s piece, which has been updated but not corrected or retracted.

Neither Penn nor three Bloomberg editors responded to a request for comment.

A representative for the agency told a reporter in a statement: “We stand behind our reporting.”

Penn, receiving backlash about the situation, told a Twitter user: “I will point out that all I had to do was present DOL with a screenshot of the post and request for comment, and 4 hours later I’m told he has resigned. Not engaging with you any further.”

Penn has not posted on his social media page about Olson getting his job back.

Bloomberg’s story announcing Olson would return to the department was authored by Terence Hyland, an editor at the paper. Hyland was one of the three editors who were contacted by The Epoch Times.

“Public outcry over Olson’s resignation began Sept. 3, shortly after Bloomberg Law published a story about his Facebook posts and his decision to leave the agency four days earlier,” Hyland wrote.

“Much of the criticism focused on the story’s characterization of the comments as anti-Semitic in light of context suggesting the comments were sarcastic.”

Olson said in a statement to supporters that he was “grateful to be heading back to work,” thanking offiicals at the Department of Labor.

“And to everyone who reached out, and especially to each of you who risked your own credibility and reputation to defend mine: Jo and I can never thank you enough,” he added. “Each of you is a blessing, and we hope to bless you in return. Thank you, and thank you again.”

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.