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Yosi Sergant Resigns from NEA

Updated 6:37 p.m.
By Garance Franke-Ruta and Michael A. Fletcher
Yosi Sergant, who became well known during President Obama's presidential campaign for his work with artist Shepard Fairey around the iconic HOPE poster, resigned Thursday from his job at the National Endowment for the Arts.

"His resignation has been accepted and is effective immediately," NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter said in an e-mail.

Sergant, a public relations professional from Los Angeles, had come to Washington to work in the Office of Public Engagement at the White House. He moved to the NEA in May and was reassigned from his post as communications director two weeks ago after coming under fire from conservative Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck.

The talk show host accused Sergant of arranging an August conference call with the Office of Public Engagement and United We Serve, a service initiative of the administration, to recruit artists to create works in support of Obama policies.

A transcript of his remarks on the August call was posted on the conservative BigHollywood.com site Monday, leading to an unusual statement from NEA chairman Rocco Landesman on Tuesday, distancing himself and the endowment from Sergant. Landesman said the call was simply to introduce artists to United We Serve, and not to promote any legislative agenda. "Suggestions to that end are simply false," he said. Sergant "acted unilaterally" and "without the approval or authorization" of the endowment's then-acting chairman, Landesman said.

The White House also on Tuesday instructed agency chiefs of staff to be mindful of avoiding the appearance of acting politically. A memorandum (PDF) from White House counsel Gregory Craig and ethics adviser Norman Eisen provided the guidance.

"It is the policy of the administration that grant decisions should be on the merits and that government officials should avoid even creating the incorrect appearance that politics has anything to do with these decisions," White House spokesman Bill Burton said.

Sergant's resignation comes a day after the 10 Republicans on the Senate committee that oversaw Landesman's nomination wrote to the chairman (PDF) to demand assurances that the NEA did not, in August, and would not, going forward, "use taxpayer dollars to engage in lobbying activities to promote the President's health care legislative agenda and other legislative priorities."

The NEA's participation in Aug. 10 and Aug. 27 conference calls in conjunction with either the White House or United We Serve "may have violated the Hatch Act, appropriations restrictions on spending funds for such purposes and/or are in direct contradiction with the NEAs mission under its authorizing statute," the senators wrote in a letter sent out by the office of Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.).

During confirmation hearings, they continued, "You specifically stated that the NEA should not become a politicized agency. This situation, unfortunately, significantly undermined that statement and goal."

In particular, they pointed to a blurb under the "Health Insurance" resources tab on the NEA Web site that urged artists -- many of whom are self-employed and lack easy access to health coverage -- to unite to "advocate for real health care reform" and demand "affordable guaranteed-issue insurance." Those words were removed after being flagged by the conservative blog Powerline and replaced with more boilerplate language. The senators requested an October 1 response from Landesman.

The chairman's remarks before assuming office suggest he had hoped for the NEA and the arts community more generally to play an active role in policy debates.

"I wouldn't have come to the N.E.A. if it was just about padding around in the agency," he told The New York Times in an August interview. "We need to have a seat at the big table with the grown-ups. Art should be part of the plans to come out of this recession."

"If we're going to have any traction at all," he added, "there has to be a place for us in domestic policy." His interest in the "role of art in urban revitalization" would play "right into the president's wheelhouse," he told the Times.

But he also told the Chicago Tribune that he didn't intend to let controversy around individual artists damage the agency's mission and goals as a grant-making institution, preferring to steer funds toward excellence but not allowing "one grantee to spoil it for everybody else by selfishly advancing [his] own agenda at the expense of the entire enterprise."

In addition to Enzi, senators signing the letter included: Judd Gregg (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Pat Roberts (Kansas).

By Web Politics Editor  |  September 24, 2009; 6:04 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Culture Wars  
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Comments

And... the dems aren't running against anyone now. They are in office. They won the election. Solidly. The people howling impeachment and socialism look ridiculous to many, and eventually they will look ridiculous to most. The people who accuse Obama of being a Chicago pol are partly right, of course. He is canny and tough as nails and he won't follow principle over a cliff. That's a disappointment to some on the left (not to me) but it should be a caution to those on the right who think they can shout him down.

The dogs bark, but the train keeps moving.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

felixw,

I don't know if you noticed, but the guy did resign.

And, when folks are trying to hang a couple of fifty-cent infractions by mid-level administration folks on the President, I'd say it's quite relevant that the previous president never took responsibility for major criminal acts by his appointees, many connected with his chief of staff.

Let's face it. The Bush administration didn't have policy apart from politics. Don't take my word, ask Bush's Secy of the Treasury Paul O'Neill. The people accusing Ogama of "politicizing everything" are outrageous hypocrites.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Hey msh41, are the Democrats still running against Bush? If that's the best defense you and your friends can find for corruption in the Obama administration, you are in bad shape.

What's next? Want to change the conversation to a discussion of the Teapot Dome scandal?

How about a more honest approach, which would be a simple acknowledgment that corrupt officials should be removed from office?

Posted by: felixw | September 25, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

* Ken Tomlinson - Board Chairman, Corporation for Public Broadcasting; member, Broadcasting Board of Governors - resigned at the release of an inspector general report concluding he had broken laws in spending CPB money to hire politically connected consultants to search for "bias" without consulting the board. At BBG, a separate investigation found he was running a "horse racing operation" out of his office, and continuing to hire politically-wired individuals to do "consulting" work for him. After being nominated and serving another term, he finally stepped down from that spot.

I got plenty more. Anyone still there???


Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

* Brian Doyle - Deputy Press Secretary, Department of Homeland Security - Resigned in wake of child sex scandal. Doyle was arrested on April 4th, 2006 and pleaded no contest on September 19, 2006 to seven counts of use of a computer to seduce a child and sixteen counts of transmitting harmful material to a minor. On November 17th, 2006 Brian Doyle was sentenced to five years in state prison and ten years of probation. He will also need to register as a sex offender.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

* Howard "Cookie" Krongard - former State Department inspector general -- accused of not properly investigating State Department contractor fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan; of retaliating against whistleblowers in his own office; and of not telling the truth about his knowledge of his brother's ties with Blackwater, a State Department contractor. Faced with a possible perjury investigation, Howard Krongard resigned on December 7, 2007.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen an answer yet to my question about Bush's corrupt GSA Heads. Does anyone even remember Safavian and Doan?

OK, then how about Gale Norton? Sec'y of interior under Bush. Gave about 2/3 of available shale oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell -- gave them the the right to extract somewhere around a trillion bucks worth of oil, depending on prices, oil that belongs to you and me -- then resigned ("because of previous commitments she'd made to her family" according to an Interior spokesman)and went to work a few months later for... Royal Dutch Shell. As a legal adviser in (get this!) their shale oil division. Did she promise her family she'd cash in after 5 years? The justice Dept is just catching up with that one.

So, what's this? Some mid-level guy at NEA (whose entire budget would be a rounding error in the deal Norton did) told some artists in a conference call that they should write/paint/dance about health care reform, and he got reassigned, then resigned. Karl Rove must be laughing so hard he's choking.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the federal government.

So what's next, is Obama going to have the IRS do his taxes or the Government Printing Office print up his campaign posters?

Posted by: bingham60 | September 25, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I'll say it again. Wake me up when this administration has anything approaching the corruption and illegal political activites of two successive heads of the GSA. (Whose budget, by the way, is about 135 times that of the NEA)

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

#1 Beck not just accused, but proved it was politically motivated

#2 "It is the policy of the administration that grant decisions should be on the merits and that government officials should avoid even creating the incorrect appearance that politics has anything to do with these decisions," White House spokesman Bill Burton said."
---So can they define "Merits"?!? If not, Assume its the same old party going on in the WH

Is it time to begin impeachment hearings?

Posted by: indep2 | September 25, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I almost Forgot. Doan was also involved in petty personal corruption: a $20K no-bid contract given to a personal friend and supporter who ran a PR firm that had helped her lobby for the job. GSA's Inspector General said it was illegal. Congress inquired. She stonewalled. Eventually GSA cancelled the contract.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

This guy did something foolish and I don't think he's much of a loss to the administration. But doesn't anyone remember Joseph Safavian? He was Bush's head of the GSA who was convicted of 4 felonies in connection with the jack Abramoff Affair. The next GSA head was Lurita Doan, who got in trouble for holding brown-bags with senior GSA folks where a Carl Rove aide did a presentation about... What? All we know about it is that there were power-point slides listing vulnerable Democrats. The GSA buys billions worth of whatever from businesses, which is why this sort of thing really smells bad. When the GSA Inspector General investigated, Doan tried to have him fired, then tried to have his charter changed to out him "on the team." Eventually the stench got too bad and she resigned at the request of the White house. Wake me up when the Obama administration has anything that can approach that.

Posted by: msh41 | September 25, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

There is the "conservative media" and the "Obama Media". The conservative media are the only ones doing real journalism. The left-wing, state run, looking for a job or bailout Washington Post is a rag.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | September 25, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Thank God for Fox, where the hell would we be without them? The leftist water carrying media (post, times, nbc, abc, cbs) are bought and paid for with our tax dollars by the democrat party. They wouldn't report the truth if they had to. Look how they ignore the Wilder rejection of Deeds as exhibit A..

Posted by: SMWE357 | September 25, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I met Yosi in the Denver airport and he was a bright young man with lots of potential. It's a shame a racist like Beck could influence the NEA.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | September 25, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm applying to the NEA for a grant to produce a tragicomic musical called "Yosi and Buffy's Not-So-Excellent Adventure." It's the story of two starry-eyed young idealists who fall under the spell of a charismatic young senator, help elect him President, go to Washington, bend the rules to promote his agenda, and get thrown under the bus when their deeds are exposed.

Scene 1 - Buffy sings, "Believe it or not, I'm actually in the White House; I never thought I'd go this far."

Scene 2 - Yosi sings - "The wheels on the bus went round and round, and I got thrown right under."

Scene 3 - As the investigation unfolds Buffy sings, "Someone's knocking at the door, I think it's the FBI, block the subpoenas, don't let 'em in."

Scene 4 - After having Buffy fired, the White House Chief of Staff sings, "She's only a pawn in my game."

Scene 5 - Overcome with remorse the President laments, "She believes in me, I'll never know just what she sees in me."

Scene 6 - A disillusioned Buffy slinks out of town singing, "I'm gonna wash that man right out of my hair."

Scene 7 - Yosi and Buffy go to work for Glenn Beck.

Posted by: Chippewa | September 25, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

In 2010 the socialists will be gone forever in this great country. The MSM let us down along with acorn they stole the election. They should impeach Obama now. He is worst than the devil.

Posted by: HellMan1 | September 25, 2009 1:39 AM | Report abuse

It's a beautiful thing to witness.

Two people who didn't belong in the executive branch (Van "I can be an *sshole" Jones & Yosi "I drank the [Obama] Kool-Aid" Sergant) -- GONE. Corrupt-to-the-core ACORN -- defunded and distanced from the Census Bureau and the IRS, as they should have been in the first place. Liberal Democrats on the run from "community organizers" and the voting block loyal to them.

Go ahead, Obamabots. Whine some more about crazy Glenn Beck and sleazy Andrew Breitbart and those silly dress-up kids O'Keefe and Giles. Insult them, slander them, take your best shot. They won't mind, because THEY GOT RESULTS.

You know why? Because their weapon of choice is incontrovertible fact. If the BHO White House could have proved them wrong, they would have.

Hopefully next to feel the Obama bus wheels will be Teresa DeCaro, the author of the HHS letter threatening Humana for expressing its corporate free speech.

Posted by: LNSmithee | September 25, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

NOV. 2, 2010 -- SANITY RETURNS TO THE USA
-------------------------------------------------
Isn't that the truth! I can't wait for 2012! I am also sick of the so-called MSM who can't bring themselves to do honest investigation when it is called for. It takes two kids with a video-cam and Internet journalist Andy Breitbart and talk show host Glenn Beck to break a couple of the biggest scandals in Washington DC. And the boobs in the MSM continue to snore. They will soon be relegated to pond scum on the cesspool of history.

Posted by: priley8104 | September 25, 2009 12:00 AM | Report abuse

This administration was trying to use the NEA, which is funded largely by taxpayers, to provide propaganda for their agenda. This is in direct violation of several laws PLUS it is highly unethical. This administration should be under investigation by an independent prosecutor. NOW!!
Republicans need to make plenty of noise about the CORRUPTION of this phony administration and Obama's numerous illegal Czar's. That will be just a start!

Posted by: priley8104 | September 24, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

This article conveniently ignores quotes from the transcript that clearly show Sergant and White House staffer Buffy Wicks directly asking artists to do work supporting the President's agenda. The call seemingly violated one or more Federal laws, and the Justice Department should investigate. Back when the Washington Post was a newspaper it would be filing FOIA requests with the NEA for Mr. Sergant's emails. But those days are gone. The Post is relegated to repeating the party line while people like Beck and Breitbart do real reporting.

Posted by: Chippewa | September 24, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Good

Posted by: rob3 | September 24, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Now it's down to going after artists. How Lo!

Posted by: gwcox2 | September 24, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

you guys are ridiculous. this guy acted unilaterally, that means by himself, and had to resign for a bad decision. bush had 36 czar's, where were you then? and good luck on 2010, the people see threw the republicans, they only act on the side that is going to win them the most political capital. they claim they want small government and under their watch we just had the biggest expansion of government in our history. they have no leaders and no ideas, period.

Posted by: whatdyousay | September 24, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

It appears that this is another instance of the White House staff failing to properly vet appointees!

This comes on a day when the Senate decided that "Czars" do not have to undergo Senate scrutiny.

So much for transparency.

Posted by: mwhoke | September 24, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

This joker was just stupid? If he loved art as he claimed the political agenda is meaningless. Clearly he had an agenda and was brain dead on arrival.

Posted by: robinhood2 | September 24, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

About time you started covering this story.

Whoops, I forgot...the Post only covers stories unflattering to Democrats in power after they have formulated an official response and damage control strategy.

Just like Pravda.

Posted by: felixw | September 24, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

SWEET HOME CHICAGO, D.C.


Gee .. MESSIAH finding out, greasing palms with TAXPAYER MONEY isn't allowed at the federal level?

Gee .. only a RUBE/ROOKIE would be that DUMB ..

NOV. 2, 2010 -- SANITY RETURNS TO THE USA

Posted by: russpoter | September 24, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

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