Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary who has presided over a slew of controversies this year, struck a defiant pose at his long-anticipated nomination hearing before a Senate committee Wednesday morning, calling news reports about DHS contracts heading to his wife’s company “fabricated” and a whistleblower’s allegation that he and other agency leaders squashed intelligence memos detailing Russian attacks on the upcoming election “patently false.”
Since Wolf assumed his post in November, DHS has sent camo-wearing agents to face off against anti-racist protesters in Portland, faced allegations of forcing hysterectomies on women in a Georgia immigration detention center, and been accused of withholding the release of an intelligence report warning of foreign plots against Joe Biden. He came under additional fire last month when the Government Accountability Office determined that Wolf was appointed acting secretary as a result of an “invalid order of succession.” (DHS, which encompasses US Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Transportation Security Administration, hasn’t had a confirmed leader since Kirstjen Nielsen left the job in April 2019.)
Here are some additional highlights from Wolf’s relatively brief hearing:
- On allegations Wolf modified intelligence reports: Michigan Democrat Gary Peters questioned Wolf on why the department withheld information from a July intelligence report warning of Russian misinformation plots against the Biden campaign. Wolf denied that his actions to delay the release of the report were politically motivated and said he simply didn’t think the report was up to his standards—he held it back from the public until the “quality” was “improved” in September. “Does it normally take close to two months for you to bring a two-page report up to the quality standards that you think are necessary?” Peters asked. “No, it doesn’t,” Wolf said, pointing to leadership changes in that office that may have caused delays. Peters then noted it was “curious that the report was only issued after news broke about it.”
- On contracts given to wife’s firm: Hours before the hearing, NBC News reported that DHS gave more than $6 million in contracts to a consulting firm where Wolf’s wife is an executive. Wolf told the committee that he had “just found out about it last night when the media inquiry came in,” and that he had no role in procurement of DHS contracts.
- On whistleblower allegations of forced hysterectomies in ICE custody: Wolf said the DHS Office of Inspector General already has “individuals at the facility in Georgia” and he “look forward to that investigation.” He called the whistleblower’s claims into question, saying that some of the “most dramatic allegations” are just allegations. “But if there is a kernel of truth to any of that, you can guarantee that I will hold those responsible accountable.”
- On white supremacists: Peters asked Wolf to confirm that the department believes white supremacist violence to be the “most deadly threat facing our nation today” domestically. Wolf said that “racially and ethnically motivated individuals and certainly white supremacist extremist, from a lethality standpoint,” especially in 2018 and 2019, “are certainly the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violence extremist.”
- On family separation: Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) read a 2017 memo written by Wolf to Nielsen in which he outlined ideas for “what she can do right away” at the US-Mexico border. Family separation was the second item on the list. As Nielsen’s chief of staff, Rosen said, Wolf suggested that the agency separate parents from their children at the border and reclassify the kids as unaccompanied minors when they took them into custody separately. “But those children were not actually unaccompanied, were they, Mr. Wolf? They were part of a family unit.” Wolf said “unaccompanied” was a legal term and then deflected.
- On speedy deportations without due process: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) asked Wolf to explain why migrants who are placed in two expedited-deportation programs are not able to access legal counsel or connect with any legal-representation services. Wolf pushed back, saying the agency “makes sure” they have access to counsel and have “their due-process rights.” But as Sinema pointed out, the agency is rushing migrants through their initial asylum screenings and quickly deporting them: Out of more than 2,000 people in one of the programs, only 13 had legal representation, and only 18 of over 2,700 cases in another speedy deportation program had a legal representation. “So there’s clearly a lot of work that we have yet to do here,” Sinema said.
The Democratic pushback against Wolf’s confirmation has been intense. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, for example, called Wolf “an awful choice.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Ron Johnson, the Senate committee chairman, on Tuesday to note their “firm opposition” to his nomination, arguing Wolf’s tenure “proves he is unfit to serve” as DHS secretary. “His record shows a consistent failure to effectively manage the agency, a pattern of issuing inaccurate or misleading statement, and enacting some of the most disturbing immigration polices in our countries history.”
And Rep. Bennie Thomson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, also sent a letter to Johnson ahead of the hearing, expressing opposition to Wolf’s nomination. “I want to share my serious concerns regarding Mr. Wolf’s repeated failure to comply with Constitutional mandated oversight during this tenure” and “urge you in the strongest possible terms to oppose his nomination.”