Chad Wolf faces Senate nomination hearing amid questions over intel assessments

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf will appear before a Senate panel Wednesday as he faces scrutiny over the validity of his appointment and concerns over his handling of intelligence assessments.

President Donald Trump announced Wolf’s nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security in late August — nearly a year after Wolf came into the post in an acting capacity. The department hasn’t had a confirmed secretary since April 2019 when Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted, a point repeatedly mentioned by lawmakers who’ve urged the administration to fill the role permanently.
Wolf’s tenure has been marked by civil unrest, the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and allegations of modifying intelligence assessments for political purposes.
Earlier this month, Brian Murphy, who headed the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, repeatedly instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit Trump’s agenda. DHS has denied those claims.
    When asked about the complaint shortly after its release, Trump said he was unaware of it and deferred to Wolf. “Ask Chad Wolf, he’s the one that would know something about it,” Trump told reporters.
    On Wednesday, Wolf will testify before the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Senators may also push Wolf on the fact he’s been serving in an acting role for so long despite questions about his legal standing.
    Since assuming the job in November, a federal judge and government watchdog have cast doubt on the validity of Wolf’s appointment.
    The Government Accountability Office said in an August opinion that Wolf and Cuccinelli were appointed as part of an “invalid order of succession.”
    In response to the GAO and federal court filings, the department affirmed and ratified previous DHS actions carried out during Wolf’s tenure as acting secretary, according to a Federal Register notice on Monday. Wolf wrote that the ratification was done “out an abundance of caution,” given the challenges to his appointment.
    Before assuming the top DHS post, Wolf was nominated by Trump to serve as undersecretary for the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans at DHS.
    During his Senate confirmation hearing for the undersecretary role, Wolf, who worked alongside Nielsen, faced questions over his role in the administration’s zero-tolerance policy that led to thousands of children being separated from their parents at the border.
    When asked if he had concerns about the policy at the time, Wolf said, “My job wasn’t to determine whether it was the right or wrong policy. My job, at the time, was to ensure that the secretary had all the information.”
    He was eventually confirmed by the Senate for the policy role on November 13, 2019 — the same day, he was designated as the acting secretary.
    When Trump announced Wolf’s nomination, the committee’s Democratic ranking member Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan said in a statement that given Wolf’s record since assuming his role, he has “serious questions and concerns about his suitability for the job,” saying the department “needs qualified, principled leaders to safeguard” the nation.
    Wolf has also fielded criticism from current and former officials who argue Wolf is politicizing the department in seizing Trump’s law-and-order message and admonishing Portland, where civil unrest persisted for weeks. A department spokesperson told CNN last week the view that Wolf is further politicizing the department “is a talking point by one party. The vast majority of Americans would say that acting Secretary Wolf is just doing his job.”
    Democratic lawmakers said they had hoped to pose to questions to Wolf last week, but a decision not to appear before a House panel left them unanswered. DHS said his pending nomination barred him from testifying. Instead, Wolf met with Senate committee staff to discuss his nomination to get the job leading the department on a permanent basis.
    Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, sent a letter to the panel’s leadership saying Wolf failed to comply with his committee, including Wolf’s decision last week not to testify despite a subpoena compelling him to attend.
      “Mr. Wolf’s obvious and blatant disregard for Congressional oversight and his repeated failure to provide even the most basic information required by the Committee to understand the Department’s actions render him unfit for confirmation as Secretary of a Cabinet-level department,” Thompson wrote.
      It’s unclear whether Wolf will get a Senate vote before the November presidential election. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Wolf an “awful choice” in a tweet, citing Wolf’s performance at DHS.

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