The DHS Secretary and His Deputy Got Their Jobs Unlawfully, a Government Watchdog Finds

Both were appointed through an “invalid order of succession.”

Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf, left, and Ken Cuccinelli, his acting deputy, at a naturalization ceremony in Washington, DC, last month.Andrew Harnik/AP

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Chad Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary, and Ken Cuccinelli, his acting deputy, were not appointed to their jobs lawfully, a government watchdog has found.

In a decision released Friday, the Government Accountability Office, a congressional oversight body, determined that Wolf and Cuccinelli were appointed as a result of an “invalid order of succession.” 

The GAO’s decision does not have the force of law, but will likely help those who are suing to block policies Wolf has put in place. Wolf, a favorite of President Trump, has continued the attacks on immigrants launched by his predecessor and recently used DHS law enforcement agents to target protesters in Portland. 

The GAO found that Wolf’s predecessor, Kevin McAleenan, should not have become acting DHS secretary under the order of succession at the time. As a result, he did not have the authority to further amend the order of succession to put Wolf and Cuccinelli at the head of DHS.

The GAO did not review the legality of Wolf and Cuccinelli’s actions at the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, it referred the matter to the DHS Office of Inspector General.

The inspector general’s office is headed by a Donald Trump appointee who touted a PhD from a diploma mill. He’s known for his loyalty to the current administration. But the GAO finding could potentially give ammunition to a Democratic administration or Congress next year to invalidate policies put in place by DHS under Trump.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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