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Democrats slam DHS chief for defying subpoena for testimony on worldwide threats

Democrats slam DHS chief for defying subpoena for testimony on worldwide threats
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are slamming Chad WolfChad WolfVoting rights group files suit against Trump, administration officials alleging voter intimidation Business groups, universities file lawsuit over new rules targeting H-1B visas US extends Mexico, Canada border closures MORE for defying a subpoena for testimony, alleging a dereliction of duty by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief to inform Congress and the public about threats to the U.S.

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLong-shot Espy campaign sees national boost in weeks before election House chairman asks Secret Service for briefing on COVID-19 safeguards for agents Hillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments MORE (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, described the absence of the acting DHS secretary from his panel's worldwide threats hearing on Thursday as appalling.    

"As the person running the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Wolf should be here to testify, as secretaries of Homeland Security have done before. Instead, we have an empty chair, an appropriate metaphor for the Trump administration's dereliction on so many of these critical homeland security issues," Thompson said at the start of the hearing.

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“Regrettably, he has chosen to defy the subpoena. That he would refuse to come before the Committee after committing to do so should appall every member of this Committee," Thompson added.

Republicans, defending Wolf, argued that the DHS chief was following the longstanding practice across multiple administrations that nominees don't testify before Congress until after their confirmation hearing. They also noted that DHS offered the No. 2 official to testify in lieu of Wolf, but that Democrats did not agree to receive his testimony. 

"I am also disappointed DHS is not here today. But I want the record to be very clear why DHS is not represented," said Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersDemocrats slam DHS chief for defying subpoena for testimony on worldwide threats Remembering 9/11 as we evaluate today's emerging threats Hillicon Valley: Tech CEOs brace for House grilling | Senate GOP faces backlash over election funds | Twitter limits Trump Jr.'s account MORE (Ala.), the top Republican on the panel.

"Acting Secretary Wolf offered to testify before this committee in both August and July. Unfortunately, the majority refused to make either of those dates work. Now, due to his nomination, Mr. Wolf is prohibited from testifying under a policy that has been in place under both Republican and Democrat administrations for decades," he said.

Rogers, in response to Democrats' criticism, noted that the department offered to have the No. 2 official at DHS, Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, testify in place of Wolf, but said they refused.

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"He should be here today providing the department's perspective on those threats we face and what DHS is countering them. But instead of having a productive hearing with Mr. Cuccinelli, the chairman chose to subpoena and then empty-chair Mr. Wolf. This is a political stunt and a huge disservice to our committee and to the public," Rogers said.

"Having the public hear about all the good things DHS is doing to protect them might undermine the radical left's latest rallying cry: Dismantling DHS," Rogers added.

"If the minority wanted to hear testimony from Mr. Cuccinelli, they had every right to invite him to appear as their witness at this hearing today. I am not aware of the minority's requesting his testimony," Thompson said in response to Rogers.

Cuccinelli said on Twitter that he had been blocked from testifying.

"I was never invited because you would rather speak to an empty chair than actually do the people's business and hear about worldwide threats," Cuccinelli said in a tweet on Thursday. "@DHSGov offered to testify in July and August, YOU delayed it, then went on vacation."

Thompson said starting in June, his panel began discussing with DHS having Wolf appear for a hearing. While DHS offered tentative dates, Thompson said, they could not reach an agreement with the FBI or National Counterterrorism Center counterparts on dates in June or July. Thompson noted that DHS informed him that Wolf would be able to testify on Sept. 17 at the earliest, and the committee agreed. 

Thompson said DHS then went back on their agreement, citing President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE's decision to recently nominate Wolf to move from serving as his interim chief to his confirmed DHS secretary.

Thompson also pointed to Wolf speaking with the media repeatedly since being nominated.

“I would note that despite his refusal to testify today, Mr. Wolf has spoken to the media on multiple occasions since President Trump announced he intended to nominate Mr. Wolf to be his secretary of Homeland Security, including no fewer than four appearances on Fox News,” Thompson said.

"Last week I wrote Mr. Wolf to make clear that there is no legal prohibition barring a nominee’s testimony and to urge him to honor his commitment," he added.

Cuccinelli said he would've been able to attend the hearing and shared the testimony he prepared for the hearing. 

"I had testimony prepared and a clear schedule to give the committee the information, but Chairman @BennieGThompson decided that political theater was more important than protecting the American people from threats," Cuccinelli tweeted.