Homeland Security lashed out Monday against Congress’s top watchdog agency, demanding the Government Accountability Office rescind its report last week finding that the department’s top two officials are holding their jobs illegally.
General Counsel Chad Mizelle said the report was written by a former Democratic campaign operative who only graduated law school three years ago — both of which, he said, made the findings suspect. As for the substance, he said GAO cherry-picked its evidence and favored some legal interpretations over others to reach bogus conclusions.
“The report takes the reader on a march through a march,” Mr. Mizelle wrote in an eight-page rebuttal to last Friday’s report, which comes amid an election season. “Does the timing of this report suggest that something else is motivating this opinion? Does the GAO’s unfortunate recent history of issuing partisan and inaccurate reports perhaps explain what is going on?”
At issue was the chain of succession when then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted in spring 2019.
The administration installed Kevin McAleenan, at the time head of the border security agency, as acting secretary. He then rewrote the chain of succession and when he left, the acting secretary’s job fell to Chad Wolf. Meanwhile, Ken Cuccinelli was appointed head of the department’s citizenship agency and then as deputy secretary — both in acting capacity.
GAO said last week that under a memo Ms. Nielsen wrote Mr. McAleenan shouldn’t have gotten the job after her. And that made all of his subsequent actions suspect, including the new chain of succession that allowed Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli to ascend.
Mr. Mizelle said there were multiple ways to read Ms. Nielsen’s memo, and the GAO’s interpretation was just one of them. He said the department has consistently taken a different interpretation, and absent any clear error, that should be controlling.
And Mr. Mizelle pointed out that Ms. Nielsen even swore in Mr. McAleenan as her successor, which he said was a clear indication she thought it was appropriate he succeed her.
In his eight-page response he included a photo of the April 2019 swearing in, calling that an “unambiguous designation of a successor.”
If Mr. McAleenan is legally in his job, then both Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli are too, he said.
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