November 10, 2017

Following Reports of White House Political Interference at DHS, Senator Hassan and Homeland Security Committee Colleagues Call for Kirstjen Nielsen to Testify Before the Committee Again

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, following a Washington Post article reporting that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly pressured acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Elaine Duke to expel thousands of Hondurans, Senator Hassan led a group of colleagues in calling on the leadership of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to hold an additional hearing on the nomination of White House Principal Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Washington Post reports that Acting Secretary Elaine Duke extended temporary residency permits under the Temporary Protected Status Program to tens of thousands of immigrants from Honduras who were facing the possibility of being deported back to a country with one of highest murder rates in the world. According to the article, following her decision, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “put massive pressure on her” to reverse her decision, indicating that the pressure was “politically driven.”

“These developments raise important new questions not only about the political interference of the White House in a key national security matter, but also about the qualifications and appropriateness of Ms. Nielsen’s nomination to be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” the Senators wrote. “For instance, the nominee must now answer questions about her ability to maintain independence from her current immediate superior, the White House Chief of Staff.”

“[Kirstjen Nielsen] must also account for any role she may have played in this potential act of political interference, as well as whether she has received any specific directives from the White House about actions she will take if confirmed as Secretary.” the Senators continued.

The Senators concluded, “in light of this report, we respectfully request that Ms. Nielsen be required to return to the Committee and answer questions under oath about these concerning developments. We thank you for your consideration of this request.”

The Committee vote on the nominee is expected to come as early as Monday, November 13th, inhibiting the Committee’s ability to address these new developments and receive adequate answers about the qualifications of Kirstjen Nielsen to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Senator Hassan was joined by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Kamala Harris (D-CA, and Tom Carper (D-DE) in sending the letter to Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.


See the full text of the letter below or a PDF here:


Dear Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member McCaskill,

We write in regard to the recent Washington Post article “White House chief of staff tried to pressure acting DHS secretary to expel thousands of Hondurans, officials say”[1] and, given these developments, to request an additional hearing on the nomination of White House Principal Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The report details political pressure applied to Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Elaine Duke after she extended temporary residency permits under the Temporary Protected Status Program to tens of thousands of Honduran immigrants, who faced the possibility of being deported back to a country with one of highest murder rates in the world. According to the report, after the decision had been made, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called the Acting Secretary and “put massive pressure on her” to reverse her decision. The article specifically indicates that the pressure applied to Acting Secretary Duke was “politically driven.” 

Moreover, the article suggests that the White House Chief of Staff’s call was made in part in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable oversight questions for Acting Secretary Duke’s anticipated successor, Ms. Nielsen, before our Committee yesterday at her confirmation hearing. Finally, citing several White House officials, the article says that Acting Secretary Duke informed the White House Chief of Staff that she plans to resign (a contention that the Administration has subsequently contested).

These developments raise important new questions not only about the political interference of the White House in a key national security matter, but also about the qualifications and appropriateness of Ms. Nielsen’s nomination to be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. For instance, the nominee must now answer questions about her ability to maintain independence from her current immediate superior, the White House Chief of Staff. She must also account for any role she may have played in this potential act of political interference, as well as whether she has received any specific directives from the White House about actions she will take if confirmed as Secretary.

Moreover, as members of this committee questioned Ms. Nielsen about her ability to manage 240,000 DHS employees, we did so under the assumption that Acting Secretary Duke would be returning to her Senate-confirmed position of Deputy DHS Secretary. In the role of Deputy Secretary, Ms. Duke had served as the Chief Operating Officer, a position critical to running such a large organization and addressing the myriad of management challenges with DHS. Given the possibility, based on news reports, that the Department’s Senate-confirmed Deputy Secretary may soon resign, Committee members should be given a chance to revisit Ms. Nielsen’s management qualifications in a formal hearing setting.

Moving forward with a Committee vote on the nominee as early as Monday, November 13, inhibits the Committee’s ability to adequately address these concerning developments and get adequate answers about the qualifications of the nominee and her involvement in this matter. Consequently, in light of this report, we respectfully request that Ms. Nielsen be required to return to the Committee and answer questions under oath about these concerning developments. We thank you for your consideration of this request.

Regards,??