Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly denied Tuesday that the White House kept him in the dark about the contents of a controversial executive order limiting the travel of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries to the U.S.
“We did know the EO was coming,” Kelly told reporters. “We had people involved in the general drafting of it.”
Multiple news stories published since President Trump signed the order Friday have suggested that Kelly was blindsided. A New York Times report describes Kelly dialing into a conference call to learn about the executive order, only to see on TV that Trump was already signing it.
While Kelly insisted Tuesday that the order was not a surprise, he was less clear about when exactly he learned about the document's specifics. Pressed by reporters, he said repeatedly that he had known since the beginning of the Trump campaign that the order was coming, based on then-candidate Trump’s rhetoric.
“Clearly, this whole approach was part of what the candidate talked about for a year or two,” he said.
Kelly also said he was not involved in crafting the order's minutiae, but that there were drafts circulated within the agency — and that his legal staff was “involved.”
“It was a pretty busy week, I didn’t get involved in correcting grammar or re-formatting the thing,” he said.
Appearing with several other acting Homeland Security officials, Kelly tried to give the appearance that the implementation of the order had gone smoothly, despite reports of chaos at airports across the country as incoming foreign travelers, including legal permanent residents with green cards, were detained by Customs and Border officials.
“Our officers at the counter, so to speak — the only chaos they saw was what was taking place in other parts of the airport,” Kelly said, an apparent reference to protests that cropped up at airports to demand the release of detained travelers.
“I knew this was under development, and I think we were in pretty good shape in how it was implemented.”
Kelly insisted that “to the best of our knowledge,” no Customs and Border official “intentionally” violated the late-breaking court order imposing a stay and temporarily halting deportations.
Attorneys for multiple detainees have reported that officials defied the court by denying legal permanent residents access to lawyers, despite the court order.