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Acting Homeland Security secretary criticizes Trump but says he’ll stay on the job

“What transpired yesterday was tragic and sickening. While I have consistently condemned political violence on both sides of the aisle, specifically violence directed at law enforcement, we now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends,” Wolf said. “This is unacceptable.”

He continued, imploring the “President and all elected officials to strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday.”

Just hours after the statement, the White House issued a release saying Wolf’s nomination had been withdrawn, sparking speculation that the President was retaliating against Wolf for his response to the riot.

But the White House and DHS said it was unrelated.

“The withdrawal occurred yesterday and was not related at all to Wednesday’s events or the Acting Secretary’s comments this morning. Acting Secretary Wolf remains the acting secretary and continues to perform the duties of his office,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said.

Wolf, who is flying back to the US from a Middle East swing focused on security agreements, said he will remain on as acting secretary until the end of the administration “to ensure the Department’s focus remains on the serious threats facing our country and an orderly transition to President-elect Biden’s DHS team.”

Wolf was up late into the night in Qatar monitoring events as they unfolded on Capitol Hill yesterday, according to a DHS official familiar with his trip. In light of the siege on the Capitol, Wolf made arrangements to return to the US as quickly as possible, the official said, after visiting Cyprus, Bahrain and Qatar this week.

Wolf has been serving as chief of the Department of Homeland Security — the third largest federal department — since November 2019 after the resignation of his predecessor, Kevin McAleenan. The validity of his appointment, however, has come under scrutiny, casting doubt over his actions as acting head of the department.

In late August, weeks into the unrest in Portland, Oregon, Trump announced his intention to nominate Wolf to serve as Homeland Security secretary last August — a surprising maneuver given Trump’s preference to have Cabinet officials serve as acting because, he says, it gives him “more flexibility.” DHS has not had a Senate-confirmed secretary since April 2019.

While the Senate Homeland Security Committee cleared the way for a Senate confirmation vote last fall, it did not come for a floor vote, leaving Wolf to continue serving in an acting capacity. Trump had resubmitted the nomination this month.

His tenure has repeatedly come up in litigation against the Trump administration’s immigration actions, including, notably, a challenge against new rules limiting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Last November, a federal judge found Wolf was not legally serving as acting Homeland Security secretary when he signed rules limiting applications and renewals for DACA, which shields undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation, and said those rules are now invalid. The program — which Trump pledged to terminate — was later restored.

On Thursday, the department’s second-in-command Ken Cuccinelli — who remained in the US this week — said the violence that transpired on Capitol Hill was “not acceptable,” and said that message was sent yesterday when federal agencies sent in hundreds of officers to help Capitol Police, at their request.

“We stand ready to continue that level of support. We’re, again at the Capitol Police’s request, we’re building fencing around the Capitol today, and tomorrow I expect that to be done. We will have a secure inauguration, and that planning has been in the works for a long time. Secret Service is in charge of that,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

Cuccinelli said he expects that Wednesday’s violence would be a “one time event,” and “it has been learned from,” adding “we would rather not learn the hard way like this.”

CNN’s Ali Main, Jeremy Diamond and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.


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