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A Cup of Homeland Hypocrisy

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 18, 2020

In the greater scheme of things, the exact names of the leaders in a Donald Trump-led Homeland Security department are almost irrelevant: The department’s most far-reaching policies are being dictated from a White House bent on using government for the singular purpose of re-election.

But there is another cup of hypocrisy brewing here that is worth a look — another version of Law & Order only for others, and not for the administration itself.

The Government Accountability Office, the independent investigative agency reporting to Congress, announced last week that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli were invalidly appointed to their positions and are ineligible to serve.

Specifically, the GAO said that after the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last year, the administration created an improper succession with first, Kevin McAleenan taking that job, then Wolf and Cuccinelli. GAO has referred the matter to the departmental inspector general for further review and potential action, and asked for reconsideration of actions taken by invalidly appointed officials.

It has been Wolf and Cuccinelli who have unleashed unmarked federal agents, including armed border control troops, in Portland and other cities, and who have authored a ton of anti-immigration changes.

Pushing Trump’s Agenda

Indeed, the whole reason that Nielsen finally resigned was because Trump was pushing her too far to break the law, protocols and plain humane treatment of migrants, as well as making her life miserable. By contrast, Wolf and Cuccinelli have found White House favor by carrying out a Trump agenda, running roughshod over individual rights and other constitutional challenges raised along the way.

Clearly, nothing is going to happen here before November, but for those of us uncomfortable with institutional hypocrisy, here’s another plank in the Trump administration indictment.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for Wolf and Cuccinelli to step down, but don’t set your watch by that, even though Cuccinelli has had problems with Senate Republicans over time.

Homeland Security says only that the GAO is wrong.

The GAO found that “Because the incorrect official assumed the title of Acting Secretary at that time, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid and officials who assumed their positions under such amendments, including Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, were named by reference to an invalid order of succession.”

The real reason here is because Trump himself has skirted the law naming acting officials rather than face Senate confirmation hearings that will challenge departmental policies and make targets of his appointees. It is part of the pattern that Trump has established to sidestep Congress altogether.

The Politics

The GAO opinion was issued at the request of two House committees headed by Democrats. Committee heads Bennie Thompson, D-MS, and Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, said Wolf should revert to his previously Senate-confirmed role as undersecretary for strategy and Cuccinelli resign entirely.

The pursuit of the matter may have political overtones, but the point is that the laws set up for such procedures aren’t supposed to be guidance, like the wearing of masks or not,

In separate action touching this matter, for example, a federal judge found in March that Cuccinelli had been invalidly appointed to his role as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and blocked two of his implemented policies.

Team Trump has a clear pattern in the use of Homeland Security for political goals from loose interpretation of asylum rules to loose administrations of federal money that he re-routes to border Wall construction to loose deployment of federal troops against American citizens.

Isn’t this the same sneer towards the law as working to screw up postal services — there is a federal penal statute about interfering with the delivery of U.S. mail?

This particular flare-up is relatively benign, but fits squarely in the abuse of powers drawer.

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