Democrats seek to expand DHS probe after whistleblower complaint

Democrats seek to expand DHS probe after whistleblower complaint
© Bonnie Cash

House Democrats have notified the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that they are expanding an investigation into the agency's intelligence activities, while requesting nearly a dozen more interviews as they seek to examine allegations of improper conduct.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE (D-Calif.) on Friday informed Joseph Maher, the top official carrying out the duties of DHS's under secretary for intelligence and analysis (I&A), of the panel's move to expand the probe to not only encompass its intelligence activities in Portland, Ore., but also claims of political interference and the politicization of intelligence raised in a new whistleblower complaint.

The complaint came from Brian Murphy, a career public servant and the former acting under secretary of I&A, who alleges that there was a pattern of misconduct among top political appointees who pushed him to alter vetted intelligence assessments to support or match President Trump's public remarks.

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In particular, the complaint alleges that acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, under the direction of White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, instructed Murphy earlier this year to stop producing intelligence reports centered on Russian interference efforts and instead focus on the threats posed by China and Iran.

Murphy says he declined multiple orders to alter or modify intelligence products to help support the administration's agenda, which he claims led to a retaliatory demotion.

“Recent developments have obligated the Committee to expand the scope of its ongoing investigation," Schiff wrote in the letter.

"The Committee is continuing to probe I&A’s activities in Portland and in support of the Department’s protests nationwide. ... However, based on information that has recently come to light, the Committee’s investigation must now encompass and review a wider range of reported abuses, deficiencies, and problems, including allegations of improper politicization of intelligence and political interference in I&A’s mission and activities," Schiff added.

DHS has denied the allegations against Wolf, who has been formally nominated to serve as DHS chief.

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Schiff is seeking to hear from 11 officials related to the probe, including Horace Jen who is performing the duties of the deputy under secretary for I&A, I&A chief of staff Matthew Hanna, DHS chief of staff John Gountanis, and DHS deputy chief of staff Tyler Houlton. 

The announcement comes more than a month after Schiff announced his panel's probe into DHS, in which he pointed to reports that the agency was monitoring peaceful protesters as well as creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and demonstrators.

Shortly before the probe, Murphy came under the panel's scrutiny amid reports that his office had taken part in illegally gathering intelligence on journalists.

Schiff in a statement at the time said the committee was "concerned that Murphy may have provided incomplete and potentially misleading information to Committee staff" during a recent oversight engagement and that DHS was withholding requested records.

The complaint, however, says the reporting on this topic was "significantly flawed," including reports that contained "completely erroneous assertions."

A committee aide in a statement Wednesday highlighted how a pending deposition with Murphy gives Congress the opportunity to substantiate or clarify exactly what has occurred. 

The panel has subpoenaed Murphy for a deposition on Sept. 21.