House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson issued a subpoena Friday to try to compel acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf to testify at a hearing next week, setting up a major clash of two branches of government.
Mr. Thompson has called a hearing on terrorist threats and has the FBI chief and the leader of the National Counterterrorism Center slated to testify. He has also demanded Mr. Wolf appear, but the acting secretary said he wouldn’t, citing his recent nomination to the secretary’s post.
Homeland Security says it’s tradition for someone who’s facing Senate confirmation not to testify.
Mr. Thompson said the times are so uncertain that the acting secretary must appear, and he accused Mr. Wolf of “evading” the hearing.
“From the coronavirus pandemic to the rise of right-wing extremism to ongoing election interference, there are urgent threats requiring our attention,” the Mississippi Democrat said.
The subpoena, issued 19 years to the day after the terrorist attacks that spurred creation of the department, pits tradition and courtesy against Democrats’ demands for answers.
They are eager to try to pin Mr. Wolf down on a series of matters, including ongoing immigration matters, a new whistleblower complaint that accuses him and other top department officials of shaping intelligence reports to benefit President Trump, and Homeland Security’s response to riots in Portland, Oregon.
Homeland Security said that if the committee is serious about wanting to investigate threats it would accept the department’s offer to have the No. 2 official, acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli, appear.
“Instead, this is just another example of D.C. swampland putting politics above public safety,” the department tweeted.
In a letter to Mr. Thompson, the department acknowledged the tradition of not having pending nominees testify outside of the confirmation process is “unwritten” but has been followed by both parties in Congress, for presidents of both parties.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans complained that Mr. Thompson had previously promised not to issue unilateral subpoenas.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican, said Mr. Thompson is picking a procedural fight.
Mr. Wolf was confirmed as under secretary for strategy last November. He also became acting secretary, taking over for Kevin McAleenan, who had been acting secretary since the spring and wrote the rules of succession that allowed Mr. Wolf to ascend to the top job.
But a Government Accountability Office report says Mr. McAleenan wasn’t properly serving as acting secretary, so the rules of succession were tainted. The GAO says neither Mr. Wolf nor Mr. Cuccinelli are properly installed.
Homeland Security says the GAO reported was tainted by politics, ignored key evidence and disregarded alternate explanations.
Still, top Democrats — including Mr. Thompson — have demanded Mr. Wolf resign, making the subpoena demand all the more pointed.