- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2020

An inspector general this week declined to investigate Homeland Security’s top two officials, but did criticize another watchdog report that claimed the two men are not legally installed as acting secretary and acting deputy secretary.

Joseph V. Cuffari, the department’s inspector general, said the Government Accountability Office’s review was “troubling” and “concerning” in its breadth and conclusions.

His conclusions added heft to Homeland Security’s complaints that the GAO delivered a partisan hit job last month when it said acting Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli were illegally holding their jobs.

Senior Democrats have seized on the GAO report to demand Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli step down. Several of those Democrats had asked the inspector general to weigh in with his own findings, too.

But Mr. Cuffari declined, telling Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the Oversight Committee, that there’s already an ongoing battle in the courts and his voice wouldn’t add much to the conversation.

He did, though, say the GAO report seemed to bungle key questions.

Mr. Cuffari said while the GAO has power to review how long jobs remain vacant and who serves in them in an acting capacity, that does not necessarily give it power to referee whether people were properly named to the posts.

And he said the GAO didn’t grapple with the president’s own independent powers to name officials to fill spots.

He called those “troubling aspects.”

Homeland Security has also blasted the GAO report, saying its author was a junior lawyer who had worked previously as a Democratic Party operative and questioning the timing of the report, amid an election season.

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 Mr. Wolf. Meanwhile, Mr. Cuccinelli was appointed head of the department’s citizenship agency and then as deputy secretary — both in acting capacity.

GAO said last month 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. Cuccinelli’s position has been the subject of several lawsuits, and at least one court has preliminarily ruled he was not legally installed as head of the citizenship agency.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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