The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday said it was rejecting Democrats’ call for acting agency Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfMicrosoft warns Russia, China and Iran targeting US election Hillicon Valley: Whistleblower alleges top DHS officials sought to alter intelligence products to fit Trump’s comments | House panel details ‘serious’ concerns around elections in four states | Irish agency investigates Facebook’s EU-US data transfer Former DHS chiefs call for stepped-up response to election threats MORE to appear before the panel, arguing it is unprecedented for a nominee to testify during the confirmation process on unrelated matters.
The pushback came as House Democrats issued a subpoena on Friday for Wolf to testify before the Homeland Security Committee on Sept. 17. Democrats have been pushing for Wolf to appear at a hearing titled “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland.”
In a letter sent to Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDemocrats divided over 1998 embassy bombing settlement Russia ‘amplifying’ concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election: report Hillicon Valley: Democrats demand answers over Russian interference bulletin | Google Cloud wins defense contract for cancer research | Cyberattack disrupts virtual classes MORE (D-Miss.) on Friday, Assistant DHS Secretary Beth Spivey slammed the assertion that Wolf’s appearance was necessary, noting the agency offered to allow senior official Ken Cuccinelli to appear before the committee to testify on threats instead.
“I had written to you on September 8, 2020 that it would be contrary to standard practice for the Acting Secretary, as the President’s selection (and announced at the time as the President’s future nominee) to be Secretary of Homeland Security, to testify before the Committee on Homeland Security on a subject matter unrelated to his nomination while that nomination was pending,” Spivey wrote, arguing the “arguments in your [Thompson’s] letter are without merit.”
Spivey noted that Trump formally nominated Wolf to officially serve as secretary on Sept. 10, asserting that Wolf will not testify until he is officially confirmed. She added that it is a standard that has long been practiced by both parties.
“From that moment onward, the Acting Secretary became unavailable to testify before Congress on matters unrelated to his nomination and will regain the ability to do so when the Senate completes the confirmation process,” the DHS letter says.
“This Presidential nomination obviates any concern that the Acting Secretary’s declining to testify at the Worldwide Threats hearing was premature, conjectural or speculative.
“Second, the right of a President’s nominee to abstain from testifying on matters unrelated to his or her nomination while such a nomination is pending is an unwritten rule honored by Chairmen from both sides of the aisle for many decades.”
Thompson blasted DHS’s refusal for Wolf to testify on Friday.
“Nineteen years after the attacks of 9/11, we continue to face grave threats to the homeland. From the coronavirus pandemic to the rise of right-wing extremism to ongoing election interference, there are urgent threats requiring our attention. Mr. Wolf’s refusal to testify – thereby evading congressional oversight at this critical time – is especially troubling given the serious matters facing the Department and the Nation,” Thompson said in a statement.
“The Committee has not only the authority, but also an obligation to execute its Constitutional oversight responsibilities regarding Mr. Wolf’s decisions and the Department’s actions in securing the homeland. As Chairman, I intend to ensure the Committee fulfills that responsibility.”
Spivey argued in her letter that DHS has cooperated with the panel’s calls to supply information pertaining to the topic of the hearing, questioning why the alternatives offered by the agency to testify are not considered adequate.
She said other witnesses who are being called before the committee are not at the Cabinet level, arguing Wolf’s presence would be “inappropriate.” She noted that Wolf had previously “volunteered to testify before the Committee in July on Worldwide Threats to the Homeland and in August on Civil Unrest” which did not take place.
“After all, at the same hearing, the other persons scheduled to testify—the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)—are not heads of cabinet-level agencies,” the letter said. “The SOPDDS would be the highest-ranking official to be present at the hearing. I would also point out that the Director of the NCTC did not confirm his attendance until he was confirmed by the Senate — a practice that was accommodated by the Committee.”
Spivey said DHS is willing to work with the panel to find a date after the confirmation process concludes for Wolf to appear.
“Should the presence of SOPDDS Cuccinelli before the Committee in Acting Secretary Wolf’s stead not meet your needs, DHS remains willing to collaborate with you to find a later date for the Acting Secretary to make himself available to the Committee once the Senate acts on his nomination,” she wrote.
– Maggie Miller contributed
Updated: 7:30 p.m.