- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2018

Homeland Security was “caught by surprise” when President Trump issued his first travel ban last January, the department’s inspector general said in a new report Friday that details the chaotic first days after the inauguration last year.

The travel ban was the first major controversial decision of the new president, and continues to be politically charged. Indeed, the Supreme Court announced Friday it will hear oral arguments this year on the third, most current, version of the travel ban this year, setting up a major ruling on presidential powers.

The original version of the ban was nixed long ago, but the stain it left on the administration remains — as the inspector general described in great detail.

Among the findings were the White House short-circuited the usual full legal review from the Justice Department, only shared draft information with then-Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, and didn’t provide the final order to the agencies that had to carry it out until two hours after Mr. Trump signed it.

With visitors on airplanes already heading to the U.S., officials scrambled overnight to try to figure out whether they would be admitted, turned away at the border or forced to undergo stiff screening to see if they would be granted waivers, the inspector general says.

While Customs and Border Protection officers acted professionally, they did violate two court orders in aggressively weeding out foreign travelers overseas trying to reach the U.S., the inspector general concluded.

The report itself is deeply controversial, with Homeland Security officials insisting on redacting a large amount of the information without providing any specific reasons, the inspector general said.

To drive the point home, every page of the 112-page report is stamped — twice — in bold red lettering saying: “REDACTIONS MADE BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.”

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this week defended the heavy redactions.

“Some of the information in it is protected by privilege. And we also want to be sure that employees at the Department of Homeland Security have the ability to talk to each other and in a pre-deliberative way,” she said.

She also took issue with the conclusion that her officers violated the court orders, saying they were required to deny boarding to people if their visas were deemed invalid.

In its official response to the report, the department also objected to the findings.

“It is important for congress and the public to know that DHS did not countenance any violation of a court order, including those specifically discussed in this Report. Any implication or statement to the contrary is unfortunate and misleading.”

The travel ban, announced on Jan. 27, was the first in a series of controversial immigration policies Mr. Trump issued at the beginning of his tenure. The original version targeted seven countries already singled out by Congress and the Obama administration and slapped new travel restrictions.

That policy was quickly halted by courts, and Mr. Trump has issued two revised policies since — which are still being challenged.

The new report doesn’t deal with those big legal questions, but instead looks at how the White House and Homeland Security implemented the policies and then complied with the court orders.

In short, the findings found lack of communication in Washington and “chaos in the field.”

“Other than Secretary Kelly and Acting General Counsel Joseph Maher, we did not identify anyone at DHS headquarters who saw a draft of the EO before its issuance,” the inspector general concluded, adding that nobody at Homeland Security bothered to share that information with Customs and Border Protection, which was the agency most affected.

CBP’s acting chief, Kevin McAleenan, learned the most details from staffers on Capitol Hill, who were “better informed” than the agency itself.

One officer at Dulles Airport called Jan. 28, the first full day of the ban, “one of the toughest days of his life.”

Making things worse were the anti-Trump protesters who flooded to airports, the inspector general said, blocking passengers from reaching their own flights.

“Total mess, I got hammered. At one point I had two congresswomen in my face and the governor and [a senator] on two speaker phones,” one port director recounted.

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