Trump to nominate acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf to top role

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Under the Trump administration, the department, which is often at the center of the president’s policies and political initiatives, has been plagued by leadership turmoil. Many senior internal security posts have been left vacant or filled on an interim basis.

Wolf was the acting secretary since November 2019. The department has not had a confirmed secretary since April 2019, when former secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign.
Wolf has been at the forefront of a multitude of issues such as immigration, civil unrest and the response to the coronavirus pandemic and, as a result, has come under criticism for his actions. During Wolf’s 10-month tenure, the department was marked by an emphasis on the border wall, a fight with New York on Global Entry and, more recently, a deployment of federal officers to Portland, Oregon, in opposition to local officials.

Trump has repeatedly praised Wolf in recent press conferences.

“I am happy to inform the American public that Acting Secretary Chad Wolf will be appointed Secretary of Homeland Security. Chad has done an outstanding job and we greatly appreciate his service!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Wolf was confirmed by the Senate as undersecretary of the Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans almost immediately before becoming acting secretary of the entire department.
But the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, said in a report earlier this month that Wolf’s appointment and that of senior official serving as Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli – the two main management positions in DHS – are invalid.
The department has challenged the GAO conclusion, calling on the agency to “immediately cancel” the report.

“This appointment is a clear admission that the Administration has installed Mr. Wolf as interim secretary illegally,” said House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi. “Since every political decision taken by Mr Wolf since November can be challenged because he lacked the proper authority, this is also an attempt to limit the administration’s exposure to challenges. judicial. “

Wolf will remain the acting secretary under the Homeland Security Act, according to a DHS official.

“The president has the right to appoint anyone he wants to be secretary of DHS, including Wolf – whether or not he is currently acting secretary legally or not. Indeed, that’s how the system is supposed to work – to the 503rd straight day without a secretary confirmed by the Senate, ”said Steve Vladeck, CNN analyst and professor at the University of Texas Law School.

“The better question is why now – why is the president appointing Wolf, who has served as interim secretary for over nine months? The recent GAO notice concluding that Wolf does not legally hold the post of acting secretary may have a lot to do with it. “

Wolf told CNN on Sunday that he had always believed the department should have a confirmed secretary.

“I firmly believe the department needs a senior secretary. I will continue to say that. I do not make personnel decisions from the White House. The White House Personnel Office does,” he said. he declared on the State of the Union.

Wolf also defended his contacts with We Build the Wall, a private group whose founder – Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage – was indicted last week, as well as Steve Bannon and two others for allegedly defrauding donors as part of an effort supposedly aimed at supporting Trump’s border wall. Last year, Wolf visited one of the sites the group was developing for a private wall on the southern border. When asked about the private group last year, Wolf said he welcomed “anyone who wants to be part of the solution.”

A few days after the indictments, he told CNN: “I wanted to understand how a private organization, if it did – if it was going to build it on its own, using its own funds, how it would fit in. what (Customs and border protection) was doing at the border ”, adding that he“ clearly ”does not support fraud.

Wolf said in a statement Tuesday that he was “honored to be appointed by President Trump to lead the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security in the protection of the American people.”

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“As the Homeland faces evolving threats from natural disasters, violent opportunists, malicious cyber actors and transnational criminal organizations, DHS’s mission is more crucial than ever,” he added. .

Tensions escalated in Portland last month after federal agents arrived in the city, which has seen protracted and sometimes violent protests against police demands for racial justice and accountability. Wolf disputed that the department had inflamed tensions, but said DHS must “do a better job communicating” its intentions following a deployment of federal law enforcement officials.

“The lesson learned is better to communicate exactly who we are targeting. We are not targeting peaceful protesters, individuals exercising their First Amendment rights,” he told Axios on HBO in a recent interview.

It’s unclear how fast the nomination will go, if at all, given the short lead time before the election.

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Responding to the President’s announcement regarding Wolf, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted: “Considering his past actions, that would be a horrible choice.”

The Senate has yet to receive the official White House appointment, according to a Senate aide.

Former DHS Acting General Counsel John Sandweg told CNN there was “no valid argument” that Wolf’s use of the title “Acting Secretary” is legal. “Not only did GAO ruled him illegal from the start, but he’s now surpassing the 210-day limit of the Act on Job Reform for Acting Civil Servants. His appointment as Acting Secretary only sows seeds. confusion and reinforces arguments that his assertion of the acting secretary’s authorities are illegitimate, ”Sandweg said.

This story has been updated with additional background information and feedback.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this story.

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