James Schwab was sitting in front of a camera inside his San Francisco Bay-area home, explaining to a reporter why he abruptly quit his job as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman three months ago.
He could not “fathom” continuing to work for an agency that lies to the public, he told CBS News reporter Jamie Yuccas on Wednesday.
He acknowledged spinning public statements; it is what people in those positions do. But knowingly spreading lies — that he could not stomach, he told Yuccas. So he quit, citing “false” and “misleading” statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan.
His resignation in March made headlines. And then Schwab essentially went quiet before finally sitting down with CBS.
About 15 minutes into the interview Wednesday in San Jose, Schwab and the others heard knocks that quickly grew louder. Schwab’s husband went downstairs to check who it was. Minutes later, a CBS crew member overheard that the visitors were from the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees ICE.
Schwab went down to talk to them, according to Yuccas.
“We hear Mr. Schwab ask three times, ‘What is this about?’ … They will not answer his questions. They just keep saying, ‘We’d like to talk to you,’ ” Yuccas told The Washington Post on Thursday.
Yuccas said officials identified themselves as agents from the DHS Office of Inspector General — an oversight division that investigates possible wrongdoing within the agency. From upstairs, Yuccas heard that the officials wanted to talk to Schwab about leaks involving Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Months earlier, when Schwab was still working as spokesman for ICE’s San Francisco office, Schaaf warned Bay Area residents about an upcoming ICE raid, triggering an angry response from President Trump, Sessions and Homan.
After hearing Schaaf’s name, Yuccas went to the door with a photographer, introducing herself as a CBS reporter. Their camera was rolling.
Standing outside Schwab’s door were two unidentified men in black suits. CBS captured the brief exchange between Yuccas and one of the men, who was carrying a folder, as the other government official and Schwab stood quietly.
“We can’t speak with you,” the agent said.
“Why are you guys here?” Yuccas asked.
“I can’t speak with you about that,” he replied.
The agent then asked Schwab to call him later. Yuccas tried to squeeze in another question, asking: “Is this about the incident … ”
“Please don’t interrupt,” the agent said, again asking Schwab to call him.
“We’re in his home,” Yuccas said.
The agent responded: “I’m talking to him. This is confidential, okay?”
Yuccas said Schwab told the officials before they left that he would talk to them at a later date but would consult with his attorney first.
The surprise visit, Yuccas said, left Schwab suspecting that he could be under investigation for possibly leaking information to Schaaf who, on Feb. 24, announced that she learned “from multiple credible sources” that ICE was preparing to conduct raids throughout the Bay Area. The raids happened the following day.
Homan, the acting ICE director, called Schaaf’s actions “irresponsible” and said in a Feb. 27 statement that 864 “criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large.” He said that he believed “some of them” had managed to avoid arrest after being tipped off by Schaaf.
Schwab, who helped craft that statement, said he felt uncomfortable with the agency’s claim that more than 800 “criminal aliens” escaped capture. He told CBS that the statement was a “flat-out lie” and had told media outlets that ICE arrested 232 suspected undocumented immigrants — a higher number than what federal authorities had expected.
Schwab resigned less than two weeks after the Feb. 25 raid, telling the San Francisco Chronicle at the time he quit because he “didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts.”
ICE officials said in March that Schwab’s statements to media outlets about ICE arrests in California were inaccurate.
Three months later, and after the visit to his home, on camera, by DHS agents, Schwab told CBS that he was “completely shocked” the agents had showed up at his doorstep unannounced.
He said he believed the visit was an intimidation tactic.
“Why, three months later, are we doing this?” he told CBS News. He added: “And this is why people won’t come out and speak against the government.”
The DHS Office of Inspector General did not respond to questions about why the officials showed up at Schwab’s home or whether he was being investigated for leaking.
The Washington Post was unable to reach Schwab.
Schwab told CBS that he had never met Schaaf, let alone talked to her, and that he would never leak anything.
“But they were very serious … very stern with me,” he said. “It was concerning.”
Yuccas said the unexpected visit clearly rattled the former ICE spokesman.
“I can tell you that Mr. Schwab seemed very confused as to why they were at his house,” Yuccas said. Recalling conversations with Schwab, she said that “in the three months since he left, no one has come to his home. … No one has called him indicating anything about a leak through the mayor’s office.”
Yuccas said she does not know for certain if the agents showed up knowing that journalists were at Schwab’s home — the crew’s TV van was parked and clearly visible outside — or if the visit was simply a coincidence.
“When they saw the camera, I can’t tell if it was that they didn’t know or if they were just agitated that the camera was there,” Yuccas said.