Democrats gear up for clash with DHS over whistleblower case
House Democrats are preparing for a showdown Friday with a top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official over allegations the agency is seeking to obstruct a whistleblower’s congressional testimony.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has charged that Joseph Maher, the DHS official carrying out the duties of the under secretary for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, is stonewalling Brian Murphy from receiving access to records related to his whistleblower complaint that alleges agency officials repeatedly sought to politicize intelligence reports.
Schiff subpoenaed Maher earlier this week, citing the agency’s failure to both turn over key documents and secure temporary security clearances for Murphy’s lawyer in time for his deposition before the committee — two things Schiff argues are necessary for Murphy to testify.
The panel, Schiff noted, has twice postponed its scheduled deposition with Murphy as it continued to negotiate with DHS for records access and security clearances.
“After weeks, and in some cases months, of attempted accommodation with the Department, we were left with no choice but to issue two subpoenas today,” Schiff said in a statement Tuesday. “Simply put, the Committee will no longer tolerate the obstruction and attempts to run out the clock by the Department.”
Schiff also issued a subpoena to compel DHS to produce the records by next Tuesday.
Maher’s scheduled testimony comes after a whistleblower complaint filed by Murphy, formerly the acting under secretary for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, alleged there was a pattern of misconduct in which top political appointees pressured Murphy to alter or modify intelligence to match or support President Trump’s public remarks.
Perhaps the most alarming allegation Murphy makes is his claim that acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, under the direction of White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, instructed him 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 recently led to a retaliatory demotion.
DHS has denied any wrongdoing by Wolf, who has been formally nominated to serve as head of the agency, and it has argued that it has cooperated with Schiff’s inquiry by turning over nearly 3,000 documents so far.
DHS has also argued that Murphy, who was recently moved to the agency’s management division, no longer has the “need to know” authority in his current role to review the documents he is requesting.
The agency has further defended its efforts to work with Schiff, stating they have agreed to Murphy’s testimony and are working to secure security clearances for his lawyers, a vetting process they argued takes time and is necessary to ensure classified information is protected.
Following the announcement of the subpoenas, a DHS spokesman in a Tuesday statement denied that the agency was stonewalling Schiff, calling the subpoenas “obvious political theater.”
Schiff’s move to subpoena Maher, a longtime DHS employee who serves as DHS’s principal deputy general counsel, comes amid rising tensions between the committee and the agency. Both parties are alleging that the other side is engaging in partisan tactics.
Democrats are particularly eager to press Murphy on the underlying classified details related to his allegations, which could not be included in an unclassified submission to Congress. It is unclear when the panel is aiming to hear from Murphy, after postponing his deposition that was scheduled for last Friday.