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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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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