Appointment of Top Two Heads of Homeland Security Found to Be Illegitimate

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf speaks during a July 21 news conference. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (CN) — An impartial congressional watchdog concluded Friday that acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, are ineligible for their posts because their appointments were illegal.

Released this morning by the Government Accountability Office, the 12-page report notes that Wolf and Cuccinelli were installed as the top two leaders of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in violation of the framework of succession laid out in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the very legislation that created the department,

The man came to power thanks to changes to the order of succession that were made after Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepped down from her post in April 2019.

By statute, Nielsen should have been succeeded by Christopher Krebs, who was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Instead, the job went to Kevin McAleenan, the then-commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.  

McAleenan resigned that November, but not before changing the orders of succession in the event of a secretary’s resignation from Homeland Security. This brought Wolf into power, and he in turn changed the succession orders in a way that allowed Cuccinelli to become his deputy.

The report follows a March ruling from U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss that also found Cuccinelli’s appointment invalid. While that case was led by immigration advocates, Democrats have previously called Wolf’s appointment into question as well.

Ultimately, the GAO report does not address or “review the consequences of Mr. McAleenan’s service,” or the impact of decisions made by Wolf of Cuccinelli — like the deployment of federal forces to U.S. cities in recent weeks. The report states it will refer the questions of who should properly be serving in each position and what can be done about those actions to the Office of the Inspector General at Homeland Security.

Democrats meanwhile have called on Wolf and his deputy to resign.

“GAO’s damning opinion paints a disturbing picture of the Trump administration playing fast and loose by bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install ideologues,” Representatives Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in a joint statement.

Wolf was in Washington last week, fielding questions from the Senate about the deployment of federal officers to quash civil protests in Portland, Ore. With many questioning the legality of tactics used by those federal agents, 15 members of Congress called for Wolf’s resignation in July. 

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