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House Democrats to Probe ‘Unprecedented’ DHS Firings

Then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen greets a member of the U.S. Border Patrol at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., March 13, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Three powerful House Democrats on Thursday opened a probe of the recent spate of firings at the Department of Homeland Security, which they called “unprecedented.”

In a letter to acting secretary of homeland security Kevin McAleenan, House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings, Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, and Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson expressed concern that the firings had compromised national security. They also requested that “all communications related to the departure, or possibility of departure” of several high-ranking officials at the department be turned over by May 9.

“We are deeply concerned that the firing and forced resignation of these officials puts the security of the American people at risk,” the letter read. “We are also concerned that the President may have removed DHS officials because they refused his demands to violate federal immigration law and judicial orders.”

The lawmakers are specifically interested in the dismissal earlier this month of former secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen, former Secret Service director Randolph Alles, former undersecretary for management Claire Grady, and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Ronald Vitiello, whose name Trump pulled from consideration to be permanent ICE director, saying he wanted to go in a “tougher direction.” They also requested documents related to two other officials rumored to be next in line for dismissal, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director L. Francis Cissna and DHS general counsel John Mitnick.

Nielsen was forced out amid reports that she and other immigration officials had resisted several of Trump’s directives, including an order to restart the administration’s controversial family-separation policy and orders to implement other hard-line policies. Her dismissal and those of Alles, Grady, and other high-ranking officials were seen as empowering the White House’s most high-profile immigration hawk, staffer Stephen Miller, to push the administration toward the “tougher direction” Trump sought.

In their letter, the House committee chairmen demanded to see all communications between Miller and McAleenan, and said they were alarmed by Miller’s apparently expanded role.

“Moreover, we are concerned by reports that, even as he has removed the Department’s leadership, the President has sought to empower a White House aide, Stephen Miller, to ‘be in charge of handling all immigration and border affairs,’” the Democrats wrote, referencing a Washington Post report.

The White House said on Wednesday that Miller will not testify before Congress on immigration issues.

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