National Security

Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments

The heads of the House Oversight and Reform and House Homeland Security committees called Friday for an official review on the legality of two top appointments this week at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), acting chairwoman of the Oversight panel, are seeking a review of the Trump administration's appointment of Chad Wolf as acting secretary and Ken Cuccinelli as acting deputy secretary at DHS.

Wolf was named to the post Wednesday, immediately following his Senate confirmation as undersecretary for strategy, plans and policy, a prior step that was necessary for him to be in line for promotion to acting secretary under the department's internal succession rules.

Shortly thereafter, Wolf named Cuccinelli as acting deputy secretary.

But Thompson and Maloney, in a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, have cast doubt about the legitimacy of those appointments, which were conducted under amendments to succession rules at the DHS implemented by former acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan before his departure last week and previously by former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

According to the letter, McAleenan's change to succession rules could be in question as McAleenan's own appointment may not have been legal.

McAleenan became acting DHS secretary after Nielsen had herself amended the rules of succession.

"Recently released documents suggest that the installation of Mr. Wolf as the Acting Secretary may violate the law, as Mr. McAleenan may not have been lawfully serving as Acting Secretary," wrote Thompson and Maloney.

Thompson and Maloney contend that Nielsen's last-minute changes to DHS succession rules did not allow McAleenan to succeed her.

McAleenan was previously serving as the Senate-confirmed Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

The two chairpersons also wrote that regardless of the legality of McAleenan's appointment, his amendment that allowed the appointment of Wolf could still be invalid, as he issued it after exceeding the statutory federal 210-day limit for acting officials.

Thompson and Maloney therefore argued that McAleenan's appointment had expired by the time he made the changes.

The letter is the latest chapter in a fight that's pitted the White House against not only congressional Democrats but also Senate Republicans, who've opposed the appointment of Cuccinelli to any Senate-confirmed office.

Cuccinelli, an immigration hard-liner and Trump ally, was the White House's top choice to succeed McAleenan as head of DHS, but ran into headwinds as Senate Republicans indicated he would not be confirmed if nominated.

Cuccinelli, until Wednesday the acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, ran afoul of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after helping fund a primary opponent of McConnell's in the 2014 election.

Wolf is a former chief of staff to Nielsen who's rankled both the left and right in the immigration debate.

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