Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker denied Friday that the Trump administration had a policy of family separation, despite internal memos showing that the administration had contemplated that its so-called “zero tolerance” policy would prompt migrant families to be separated.
The claim drew gasps in the House Judiciary Committee hearing room. It came during an impassioned line of questioning from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) about involvement of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Whitaker’s boss at the time, in the policy. She asked Whitaker to confirm he was Sessions’ chief of staff at the time of the family separation policy.
“I’m sorry, there was no family separation policy. There was a zero tolerance policy,” Whitaker said.
“This has been given four Pinocchios multiple times,” Jayapal said, referring to the Washington Post fact-checker of the claim that Department Homeland of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made that such a policy did not exist.
Jayapal brought up the December 2017 memo, released by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), assembled by the DHS and DOJ laying out the option of increasing prosecutions of migrant parents, causing them to be separated from their children. Media reporting on the increased prosecution “would have a substantial deterrent effect,” the memo said.
Jayapal went on to grill Whitaker about a Government Accountability Office report that found that the HHS and DHS officials who would be tasked with implementing the policy were not given the heads up about it before it was publicly announced.