Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf faced a range of tough allegations Wednesday before a Senate panel on how the department handled intelligence assessments, a contract awarded to his wife’s firm, and immigration.
Wolf said allegations of manipulating intelligence reports to conform with President Donald Trump’s political agenda were “patently false” and a complete “fabrication” during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday morning in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Earlier this month, Brian Murphy, who was a top DHS intelligence analyst, accused top DHS officials of blocking analysis of Russian election interference, watering down intelligence reports about corruption and violence fueling a refugee flow from Central America, and modifying “assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups,” according to a written complaint.
Wolf said Murphy was reassigned because of credible allegations about collecting information on U.S. journalists.
“I reject any claim that I attempted to influence or retaliate against any individual at DHS, but specifically, Mr. Murphy,” Wolf said Wednesday.
Wolf’s time as acting secretary has been marked by civil unrest, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as the escalation of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
During the hearing, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., ranking member of the committee, asked whether Wolf personally withheld in July the release of an intelligence bulletin calling out a Russian attack on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s mental health, a claim which Wolf denied.
“I did not withhold it. I asked for the product to be improved, which they did over a period of time, and then that product was released in the beginning of September,” he said.
Peters asked if it was possible staff elevated this specific report to him because it dealt with Trump’s opponent in the upcoming presidential election, which Wolf denied. Wolf said he has reviewed only about a half dozen to a dozen such reports.
He also denied, when asked, if to his knowledge deputy DHS secretary Ken Cuccinelli has ever directed or encouraged staff to withhold, issue or alter intelligence reports to align with the White House’s messaging.
Earlier Wednesday, NBC News reported that the consulting firm for which Wolf’s wife, Hope Wolf, is an executive has been awarded more than $6 million in contracts from DHS since September 2018, according to records on the federal government website USA Spending.
“I just found out about it last night when the media inquiry came,” Wolf said of the report during Wednesday’s hearing. “I have no role in procurements. If I was involved in procurements, which I am not, I have recusals in place to not only include her firm, but also clients that I had before arriving at the department.”
Hope Wolf is vice president of professional staff operations at Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm. Although the company has a long history of federal contracts, it did not do work for DHS until after Wolf became the TSA’s chief of staff in 2017.
Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., gave Wolf time at the top of the hearing to address concerns surrounding his confirmation, including another recent whistleblower report from a nurse that alleged medical misconduct against detained migrant women at a Georgia detention facility.
Wolf said it was his understanding that the department’s office of inspector general had individuals on the ground at the detention center in Irwin County, Georgia.
“Some of what we have seen thus far in some of the most dramatic allegations in that complaint regarding certain medical procedures, some of the facts on the ground and some of the facts that we have seen do not back up those allegations, but again I’m going to let the OIG process play out,” he said. “But if there is a kernel of truth to any of that, you can guarantee that I will hold those accountable and will take very decisive action.”
The president announced Wolf’s nomination to lead the department last month after he came to the post in an acting capacity in November. The department has not had a confirmed secretary since April 2019.
But in August, the Government Accountability Office found that Wolf and Cuccinelli were unlawfully appointed to their current roles as part of an invalid order of succession.
Addressing that finding, Wolf said Wednesday, “We very strongly disagree with that opinion.”
“I'll continue to say I respect the role that GAO plays,” he said. “But that again does not dismiss the fact that we believe they have a faulty decision and the legal logic that they used is very inaccurate.”