Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf defied a subpoena from the House Committee on Homeland Security Thursday, claiming that his status as a pending nominee for the permanent secretary post made him ineligible to testify.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) dismissed Wolf’s excuse in his opening statement, saying that it has no legal basis. Thompson noted that Wolf has had no qualms about doing cable news hits while serving in his acting capacity.
“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 Secretary of Homeland Security, including no fewer than four appearances on Fox News,” he said in his opening statement.
Thompson added that the committee had started organizing the hearing with Wolf back in early June, and that the panel only grudgingly agreed to the months-later September date in the interest of hearing Wolf’s testimony. He said that the acting DHS secretary backed out last week, forcing him to issue a subpoena on Friday.
Thompson gestured to an empty chair where Wolf would have been sitting: “An appropriate metaphor for the Trump Administration’s dereliction on so many of these critical homeland security issues.”
Ken Cuccinelli, a senior official performing the duties of deputy secretary, denied Thompson’s account of the back-and-forth. Cuccinelli claimed that Wolf offered to testify in July, but that the committee delayed the hearing until he was formally nominated. Cuccinelli also said that he offered to testify in Wolf’s place, but was rebuffed.
“I had testimony prepared and had my schedule clear to show up at this morning’s hearing,” he said in a statement. “Instead, the committee majority decided that they would rather put on a show for the media.”
Though the hearing was billed as general testimony on threats to the homeland, both Cuccinelli and Wolf would’ve faced significant pressure on whether they even rightfully have their jobs.
Two federal judges have found separately that Wolf and Cuccinelli are likely unlawfully holding their positions. Similarly, the Government Accountability Office found that the two were appointed as part of an invalid line of succession, and referred the matter to the department’s inspector general. Neither man has been confirmed by the Senate.
On Tuesday, the IG declined to investigate, saying it would be “pointless” to intervene in a “bitter inter-branch disagreement.”
“Neither GAO nor DHS OIG can issue a binding determination on that issue, but a federal court can and probably will,” Joseph Cuffari wrote in a letter to Thompson and Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). The lawmakers have called on both Wolf and Cuccinelli to resign.
Both men currently still hold their roles at DHS, with Cuccinelli also serving as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services along with his deputy secretary position.
Wolf also likely would have been pressed about a bombshell report earlier this month detailing his interference in the dissemination of an intelligence bulletin about a Russian scheme to denigrate Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s mental health. According to the report, after Wolf intervened, the bulletin was suppressed.
The bulletin is just one data point from DHS showing that President Donald Trump and his campaign have been using the same strategies as Russian disinformation actors. In another surfaced days later, intelligence showed that Russians have been hammering the unreliability of voting by mail — a specious claim Trump has parroted almost daily.