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

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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.

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Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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