The DHS Secretary and His Deputy Got Their Jobs Unlawfully, a Government Watchdog Finds

Both were appointed through an “invalid order of succession.”

Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf, left, and Ken Cuccinelli, his acting deputy, at a naturalization ceremony in Washington, DC, last month.Andrew Harnik/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Chad Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary, and Ken Cuccinelli, his acting deputy, were not appointed to their jobs lawfully, a government watchdog has found.

In a decision released Friday, the Government Accountability Office, a congressional oversight body, determined that Wolf and Cuccinelli were appointed as a result of an “invalid order of succession.” 

The GAO’s decision does not have the force of law, but will likely help those who are suing to block policies Wolf has put in place. Wolf, a favorite of President Trump, has continued the attacks on immigrants launched by his predecessor and recently used DHS law enforcement agents to target protesters in Portland. 

The GAO found that Wolf’s predecessor, Kevin McAleenan, should not have become acting DHS secretary under the order of succession at the time. As a result, he did not have the authority to further amend the order of succession to put Wolf and Cuccinelli at the head of DHS.

The GAO did not review the legality of Wolf and Cuccinelli’s actions at the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, it referred the matter to the DHS Office of Inspector General.

The inspector general’s office is headed by a Donald Trump appointee who touted a PhD from a diploma mill. He’s known for his loyalty to the current administration. But the GAO finding could potentially give ammunition to a Democratic administration or Congress next year to invalidate policies put in place by DHS under Trump.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate