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The appointments of the top two officials at the Department of Homeland Security violated federal law, the Government Accountability Office said on Friday.
GAO, which is an independent watchdog agency that reports to Congress, said that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and his deputy Kenneth Cuccinelli are serving under an invalid order of succession under the Vacancies Reform Act.
The Vacancies Reform Act governs how temporary appointments can be made to positions that require Senate confirmation. President Trump has repeatedly circumvented the Senate confirmation process by placing people in acting positions — including Wolf and Cuccinelli, whose official title is Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.
Those two appointments violated the act, GAO said, because of the sequence of events following the resignation of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in April of last year. The official who assumed the title of acting secretary at that time, Kevin McAleenan, had not been designated in the order of succession, GAO said.
Wolf was a deputy chief of staff in the Trump administration before rising through the ranks, in part because of his repeated public professions of support for Trump and his hard line views on immigration. Wolf has played a central role in the government’s controversial response to protests throughout the United States this summer, actions some former DHS officials from both parties have said crossed the line.
Cuccinelli, formerly the attorney general of Virginia, is also an immigration hard-liner who also served as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In addition to the temporary appointments at DHS headquarters, none of the three agencies that run the country’s immigration system — U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — have a Senate-confirmed leader.