In shake-up, Trump seeks team to sup­port his de­sire for a hard line on im­mi­gra­tion

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Peter Baker, Mag­gie Haber­man, Nicholas Fandos and Zolan Kanno-Youngs

WASH­ING­TON – Pres­i­dent Trump moved to clear out the se­nior ranks of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity on Mon­day, a day af­ter forc­ing the res­ig­na­tion of its sec­re­tary, Kirst­jen Nielsen, as he ac­cel­er­ated a purge of the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion and se­cu­rity lead­er­ship.

The White House an­nounced the de­par­ture of Ran­dolph D. Alles, di­rec­tor of the Se­cret Ser­vice, who had fallen out of fa­vor with the pres­i­dent even be­fore a se­cu­rity breach at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida that the agency ef­fec­tively blamed on Trump’s em­ploy­ees.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied dis­cussing per­son­nel changes be­fore they were an­nounced, said at least two to four more high-rank­ing fig­ures af­fil­i­ated with Nielsen were ex­pected to leave soon, too, hol­low­ing out the top ech­e­lon of the depart­ment man­ag­ing border se­cu­rity, pres­i­den­tial safety, coun­tert­er­ror­ism, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, cus­toms and other matters.

The wave of de­par­tures of of­fi­cials orig­i­nally ap­pointed by Trump un­der­scored his grow­ing frus­tra­tion with his own ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of im­mi­gra­tion and other se­cu­rity is­sues. In re­cent days, Trump has threat­ened to close the south­west­ern border al­to­gether only to back off and give Mex­ico a one-year no­tice in the face of warn­ings about deep eco­nomic dam­age from such a move.

The shake-up, com­ing more than two years into Trump’s term, in­di­cated that he is still search­ing for a team that will ful­fill his de­sire for an even tougher ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion. It also sig­naled the en­dur­ing in­flu­ence of Stephen Miller, the pres­i­dent’s hard-line se­nior ad­viser who has com­plained about re­cal­ci­trant home­land se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

Some of Trump’s al­lies com­plained that he was go­ing too far, tak­ing out sub­or­di­nates who ac­tu­ally share his goals on im­mi­gra­tion at the prod­ding of White House aides hunt­ing for scape­goats for the fail­ure to con­trol the border as he has promised to do.

“With­out names, there’s peo­ple in the White House that speak about im­mi­gra­tion,” Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley, R-Iowa, said in an in­ter­view. “They haven’t ac­com­plished a whole lot, so they need to find some other way to make them­selves look im­por­tant.”

The lat­est shuf­fle came just a day af­ter Trump pushed out Nielsen for not do­ing enough in his view to se­cure the border and three days af­ter Ron­ald D. Vi­tiello, act­ing di­rec­tor of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, was told to step aside so the ad­min­is­tra­tion could go in a “tougher di­rec­tion,” as Trump put it.

Of­fi­cials said they ex­pect to see the de­par­tures of L. Fran­cis Cissna, head of U.S. Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices; Kathy Nuebel Ko­varik, one of his top deputies; and John Mit­nick, the depart­ment’s gen­eral coun­sel and a se­nior mem­ber of Nielsen’s lead­er­ship team. All of them were said to be viewed by Miller as ob­sta­cles to im­ple­ment­ing the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies.

The White House is also press­ing for the res­ig­na­tion of Claire Grady, the act­ing deputy sec­re­tary, who un­der law would nor­mally fill in for Nielsen. Trump has al­ready an­nounced that he will in­stall Kevin K. McAleenan, the Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion com­mis­sioner, as Nielsen’s act­ing re­place­ment, which he can­not do if Grady re­mains in place.

The lat­est moves ap­peared to be a house­clean­ing of of­fi­cials as­so­ci­ated with John Kelly, the pres­i­dent’s for­mer chief of staff and his first home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, who was pushed out at the end of last year af­ter months of ten­sion with Trump.

Alles, a re­tired Marine ma­jor gen­eral who served with Kelly in the mil­i­tary and goes by Tex, was the first per­son from out­side the Se­cret Ser­vice to head the agency in more than a cen­tury, and some ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said he had a hard time fit­ting in.

At Trump’s in­struc­tion, Mick Mulvaney, the act­ing White House chief of staff, told Alles at least 10 days ago to ex­pect a tran­si­tion af­ter two years in of­fice and to de­velop an exit plan, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions.

Trump, who talks with mem­bers of his own Se­cret Ser­vice de­tail, had soured on Alles a while ago, con­vinced that as an out­sider he was not pop­u­lar among the agents, of­fi­cials said. Trump even made fun of the di­rec­tor’s looks, call­ing him Dumbo be­cause of his ears. But a Se­cret Ser­vice ally of Alles dis­puted the no­tion that he did not fit in, say­ing that the di­rec­tor was well-liked among the work­force.

Alles was told to de­velop an exit plan be­fore the ar­rest of a Chi­nese woman car­ry­ing a mal­ware-laced de­vice at Mar-a-Lago, ex­pos­ing holes in the se­cu­rity of the pri­vate club.

The Se­cret Ser­vice was so dis­turbed that it is­sued a state­ment fault­ing the club’s staff for not track­ing its guests closely enough.

Some Se­cret Ser­vice of­fi­cials said Mon­day that they sus­pected that Alles’ de­par­ture was ac­cel­er­ated in part be­cause of the episode.

The White House made no men­tion of that in its state­ment announcing Alles’ de­par­ture is­sued shortly af­ter it was re­ported by CNN.

Alles “has done a great job at the agency over the last two years, and the pres­i­dent is thank­ful for his over 40 years of ser­vice to the coun­try,” Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, the White House press sec­re­tary, said in the state­ment.

She said he would be re­placed in May by James M. Mur­ray, a ca­reer Se­cret Ser­vice of­fi­cial who over­sees pro­tec­tive oper­a­tions.

Alles was the fo­cus of an early fight be­tween Trump and Kelly in the first months of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Kelly threat­ened to re­sign as home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary if Alles was not made Se­cret Ser­vice di­rec­tor, ac­cord­ing to for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. In an email mes­sage to his work­force, Alles con­firmed that his de­par­ture was or­dered by the pres­i­dent last month.

Re­gard­less of when the de­ci­sion was made, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Sen­ate Demo­cratic leader, said Alles should tes­tify be­fore Congress about the Mar-a-Lago breach.

“The pub­lic and Congress need to know the ex­tent to which ad­ver­sar­ial govern­ments – like China – and their agents are at­tempt­ing to gain ac­cess to, or con­duct elec­tronic sur­veil­lance on, con­ver­sa­tions or other in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing na­tional se­cu­rity at Pres­i­dent Trump’s prop­er­ties,” he said.

Not all of Trump’s al­lies were happy with the moves. Sev­eral cham­pi­ons of more re­stric­tions on im­mi­gra­tion called the White House to com­plain about Cissna’s pend­ing de­par­ture, ar­gu­ing that he is on their side on the is­sues that mat­ter to the pres­i­dent.

“There’s no doubt that Cissna has proved his com­pe­tence, in a lot of things he’s do­ing – things that the pres­i­dent is for,” Grass­ley said. Re­fer­ring to Cissna and Ko­varik, both of whom once worked on his staff, Grass­ley said, “If he gets rid of these two, it’s self-de­feat­ing be­cause I don’t know any­one else in the depart­ment or at least in im­mi­gra­tion” who could do bet­ter.

One ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Cissna an­gered Miller by re­fus­ing to make changes to asy­lum pol­icy with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. Un­der cur­rent law, im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally and fac­ing re­moval may seek asy­lum be­fore an im­mi­gra­tion judge if found to have a cred­i­ble fear of per­se­cu­tion or tor­ture.

As for Nielsen, she ex­pressed no un­hap­pi­ness about her de­par­ture and thanked Trump “for the tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity” to serve her coun­try and the em­ploy­ees of her depart­ment for their ef­forts to se­cure the na­tion.

The lat­est de­par­tures, along with pre­vi­ous va­can­cies, will leave the Depart­ment of Home­land with­out a per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, deputy sec­re­tary, two un­der­sec­re­taries, Se­cret Ser­vice di­rec­tor, Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency di­rec­tor, ICE di­rec­tor, gen­eral coun­sel, ci­ti­zen­ship and im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices di­rec­tor, in­spec­tor gen­eral, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, chief pri­vacy of­fi­cer and, once McAleenan moves, Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion com­mis­sioner.

“The purge of se­nior lead­er­ship at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is un­prece­dented and a threat to our na­tional se­cu­rity,” said Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif.

New York Times

Pres­i­dent Trump moved to re­place the top ranks of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity on Mon­day, a day af­ter forc­ing the res­ig­na­tion of its sec­re­tary, Kirst­jen Nielsen.

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