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'Big News': GAO Says Top Trump DHS Officials Wolf and Cuccinelli Appointed Illegally

Democratic lawmakers said the GAO decision "paints a disturbing picture of the Trump administration playing fast and loose by bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install ideologues."

Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli speaks about immigration policy at the White House during a briefing August 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli speaks about immigration policy at the White House during a briefing August 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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The Trump administration's top officials at the Department of Homeland Security—Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli—were illegally appointed to their positions, the Government Accountability Office said Friday.

The decision from the internation government watchdog states that the appointments were not in compliance with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act or Homeland Security Act.

From the GAO decision:

Upon Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's resignation on April 10, 2019, the official who assumed the title of Acting Secretary had not been designated in the order of succession to serve upon the Secretary's resignation. Because the incorrect official assumed the title of Acting Secretary at that time, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid and officials who assumed their positions under such amendments, including Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, were named by reference to an invalid order of succession. We have not reviewed the legality of other actions taken by these officials; we are referring the matter to the Inspector General of DHS for review.

The Democratic lawmakers who demanded the review of the appointments seized upon the GAO determination as evidence that both Wolf and Cuccinelli should step down.

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The decision "paints a disturbing picture of the Trump administration playing fast and loose by bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install ideologues," Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

"At a time when DHS should be marshaling the resources of the federal government to respond to the pandemic that has killed over 165,000 Americans, the department's illegally appointed leaders are instead focused on continuing the administration's attack on immigrants and intimidating peaceful protesters in a show of force for the president's reelection campaign," the lawmakers said.

Advocacy groups weighed in on the development as well, with immigrant rights groups calling it "BIG news as it'll effect a variety of pending lawsuits raising similar challenges."

According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the GAO decision "raises serious legal questions."

"There must be accountability," the group said.

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