WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump’s candidate for the head of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday denied allegations that he had fashioned intelligence reports to suit the administration, telling a Senate committee that a recent whistleblower report was “patently false”.
Acting Homeland Security Department Chad Wolf, testifying at a large Senate confirmation hearing, also dismissed a separate claim that he withheld an intelligence report on Russian disinformation targeting the former vice president Joe Biden.
See:Homeland security whistleblower says he was forced to change intelligence on Russia and white supremacists to match Trump’s preferences
The two issues emerged early in the hearing as the Senate examines a candidate who has been accused of politicizing the third largest department in the federal government and has been criticized for his handling of civil unrest, COVID-19 and the ‘immigration.
“Rhetoric and political ideology cannot lead to intelligence reports and they should not predetermine the actions of a federal ministry,” said Senator Gary Peters, senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, at the start of the hearing.
Wolf appears to have strong Republican support on the committee, but it’s unclear whether the entire Senate will vote on his confirmation ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
The whistleblower’s complaint released this month is under investigation by the DHS Inspector General’s office. Wolf rebuffed the claims, which included claims he sought to downplay the threat posed by Russia and white supremacists, made by Brian Murphy, who was a senior official in the agency’s intelligence division until that the acting secretary reassign him at the beginning of August.
â€œThis is clearly wrong. It’s a fabrication, completely, â€Wolf told the committee.
Wolf said Murphy was reassigned due to “credible allegations” that he led the collection of information on American journalists covering DHS deployment of federal agents to Portland, Ore., During protests of summer.
In her whistleblower complaint, Murphy said that to her knowledge, DHS’s intelligence division “never knowingly” collected information from reporters, although it did follow media reports that appeared to include leaks. .
Murphy plans to challenge Wolf’s claim after his legal team obtains permission from DHS to review the classified information, attorney Mark Zaid said.
“We categorically take issue with Mr. Wolf’s testimony and look forward to the opportunity to provide classified testimony to congressional and OIG oversight authorities to describe details to the contrary,” Zaid said in an email.
Wolf was also asked about an ABC News report that he withheld an intelligence bulletin warning law enforcement against a Russian disinformation effort to promote false claims about Biden’s mental health.
Wolf said he suspended the two-page document in July so it could be “improved” with additional context. It was then released in September. Peters wondered why it had taken so long, only being released after some media coverage that had been held up. The deputy secretary blamed the leadership changes in the intelligence division, alluding to Murphy’s impeachment.
â€œThe important part is that the underlying intelligence hasn’t changed,â€ he said.
He later said the intelligence community believes three countries are carrying out disinformation campaigns aimed at influencing the presidential election.
“Russia seeks to disparage former Vice President Biden,” he said. “China prefers Vice President Biden and Iran prefers Vice President Biden.”
It is not yet known when the committee will vote on Wolf, who also praised Republican senators for sending agents to Portland, despite opposition from local officials, and members on both sides for the work of the thousands of law enforcement officers who work for DHS.
Wolf, who has been acting secretary since November, also rejected a report released by the Government Accountability Office that neither he nor his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, are legally able to hold their posts due to a breach of the law. order of succession. , a conclusion that could jeopardize certain actions of the agency in immigration and other matters.
Wolf noted that DHS attorneys dispute GAO’s conclusion, which he says is by no means binding. â€œWe will continue to operate as we have done,â€ he said.
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