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Chad Wolf could be a placeholder at Homeland Security

President Donald Trump still has his eye on Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan as possibilities to fill the role, NBC News has learned.
Image: Chad Wolf
Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Chad Wolf speaks during a meeting of the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF), in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, on Oct. 29, 2019.Alex Brandon / AP

President Donald Trump, who confirmed Friday afternoon that he was naming Chad Wolf as acting secretary of Homeland Security, doesn’t plan to nominate him to fill the position permanently, a person directly involved in the process told NBC News.

The current acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, was set to step down Friday, but by evening, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters McAleenan will stay on through Veteran's Day, Nov. 11.

"Chad Wolf will serve as acting secretary in the interim," Gidley said, declining to answer questions about who would be nominated in a permanent role.

Indeed, NBC News' source said Wolf is expected to fill in on a temporary basis: Trump is still considering Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to be the eventual nominee.

It’s unclear though when a formal nomination may be made, the person said.

On Friday, Trump lauded Wolf to reporters on the White House South Lawn.

"I put in a very good man, very respected," the president said. "He's acting right now — see where that goes. As you know I like acting. It gives you great flexibility."

There are questions about whether Wolf can legally serve in the position because he has yet to be Senate-confirmed in his role as undersecretary of strategy, policy and plans at DHS.

Under the federal statute governing vacancies, an acting official filling a Cabinet-level position must either be Senate-confirmed or the next in line for post.

The White House has been working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members to try to get Wolf confirmed in the undersecretary post to help give him legitimacy in the acting role, the person said.

NBC News was the first news organization to report that Wolf was in the running to lead the department responsible for immigration enforcement, transportation security, coastal security and anti-terror strategy.

Wolf isn’t thought to be as much of an immigration hardliner as Cuccinelli or Morgan, but he was an early architect of the migrant family separation policy at the border, according to internal emails obtained by NBC News.

Dennis Romero contributed.