In the Agencies
BLACK MONDAY: President Trump continued his purge of the Department of Homeland Security's senior leadership yesterday — a shake-up stemming from rising frustrations with his administration's inability to curb the influx of migrants on the southern border.
The sweep has once again put the spotlight on Stephen Miller, Trump's policy adviser and immigration agitator, who has pushed for the president “to clean house at DHS, encouraging Trump to take wider aim at the entire department, not just the agencies responsible for immigration policy and border enforcement,” White House aides told my colleagues Nick Miroff, Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey and Carol Leonnig on Monday. “They are decapitating the entire department,” one DHS official told The Post.
A day after DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, and four days after Trump rescinded his nomination of Ronald Vitiello as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even more firings are expected.
“The instability extends to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose director, William “Brock” Long, left DHS in February after supervising emergency and recovery efforts for several massive natural disasters. L. Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and DHS General Counsel John Mitnick could be the next to go, DHS officials said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly of their frustrations with the White House,” per Nick, Toluse, Josh and Carol. (CNN first reported the expected departures.)
Secret Service Director Randolph D. “Tex” Alles was the latest to go, as the White House announced his removal yesterday. And CBS News's Major Garrett reports that DHS undersecretary for management Claire Grady is also leaving the administration.
Frustrations boiling over: Nick, Toluse, Josh, and Carol report that when Trump discovered that over "103,000 migrants arrived at the Mexican border in March — the highest total in more than a decade — he was livid, according to a White House official. The president was additionally frustrated that Nielsen and others would not close the border and change the rules to immediately stop migrants from coming to the United States to request asylum.”
- Stephen Miller told immigration hard-liners and conservative media in a conference call to “take the president at his word when he's threatening to shut down the border,” as one source on the call told Power Up.
- “You can tell that they're running out of options” to deal with the border challenges, the source added.
- The numbers: Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Nielsen's temporary replacement, said last month that “agency projections have border apprehensions on pace to exceed 100,000 this month — an increase of more than 30 percent. By comparison, at the height of the last border crisis, in May 2014, agents apprehended more than 68,800 migrants that month.”
- What's next?: DHS officials are trying to find a way to implement “tough” measures that Trump has been calling for, which includes a plan called "'binary choice' that would give migrant parents the option of remaining detained as a family or agreeing to a separation so that their children would not remain in immigration custody,” per my colleagues Nick, Toluse, Josh and Carol.
The staff overhaul Miller advocated comes as good news to some of Washington's immigration hard-liners who have accused Nielsen and her inner circle, along with former chief of staff John Kelly, of slow-walking some of Trump's policies. Some insist a leadership overhaul is essential as Trump transitions back into full-blown campaign mode.
- "[Stephen Miller] is an important force in the White House on immigration and quite frankly, he seems to be the only White House staffer who actually is committed to the president’s immigration agenda,” Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group with proposals to reduce immigration that have been influential in Trump's White House, told Power Up.
- "[Nielsen] let this thing fester,” Krikorian said of the influx of migrants arriving at the Mexican border. “We saw this happening last year and Nielsen did not really appreciate the urgency of it.”
- “Rich Staropoli, a former Secret Service agent and former senior Homeland Security Department official under Trump, said the president appears to be booting several key people who got their jobs at the urging of former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly,” my colleagues Toluse and Carol report. “He was pushed by John Kelly,” Staropoli said. “The president likes generals. But now it looks like he’s cleaning house.”
- 2020: “Trump has relied on immigration neophytes and Obama administration holdovers and hasn’t gotten any results,” RJ Hauman, the director of government relations at the Federal for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), another Trump-friendly group that seeks to reduce immigration, told Power Up. “If he is going to run for reelection on the same issue he ran on in 2015, now is the time for results. He has an opportunity to correct one of the original sins of naming John Kelly as the head of DHS despite having no immigration experience, and then replacing him with Nielsen, who also had no immigration experience.”
However, others believe that Trump is being pushed too far by Miller — on personnel and policy. Critics say Trump's chaotic spaghetti-on-the-wall approach to the border is contributing to the surge in families attempting to enter the U.S.
- “I think it’s a result of the boy genius behind the policies,” Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection under former president Barack Obama, told Power Up. “If you want to look at who should be fired, it should be him — Stephen Miller.”
- Burn: Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) told my colleague Seung Min Kim that he thought “it would be hard for [Stephen Miller] to demonstrate that he's accomplished anything for the president.”
- Grassley's response when Seung Min asked him to elaborate: “It’s pretty hard to elaborate on it when there hasn’t been any accomplishments.”
Some of the most heated criticisms of the White House's purge came from Trump's Republican allies over reports that Cissna will be booted next. Cissna worked closely with Grassley for years.
- “One, those are good public servants,” Grassley told Seung Min yesterday evening. “Secondly, besides the personal connection I have with them and the qualifications they have, they are the intellectual basis for what the president wants to accomplish in immigration.”
- “The president has to have some stability and particularly with the number one issue that he’s made for his campaign, throughout his two and a half years of presidency,” Grassley added. “He’s pulling the rug out from the very people that are trying to help him accomplish his goal.”
- Even those in favor of the purge argued in favor of keeping Cissna: “President Trump needs to look at the negative forces at DHS headquarters and even within the White House who hold up or undermine a lot of the regulations coming out of USCIS. But if the ire is being directed at Francis, that’s the wrong person,” Hauman told us.
Experts and former administration officials who worked on immigration issues are calling out other policies Miller is pushing as a contributing factor of increased border crossings. In recent weeks, Trump has proposed sealing the border, throwing tariffs at Mexico, and threatening to pull funding from three Central American countries.
- Kerlikowske, the former CBP commissioner, argues that cutting off funding to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador will only worsen the situation and likely cause even more violence and economic hardship in those places.
- The former CBP commissioner told Power Up that as result of a boost of funding to the “Northern Triangle” under Obama, the homicide rate in El Salvador decreased “and you saw a reduction in people leaving El Salvador to come to the U.S.”
- “We did an awful lot with the three Central American countries and Mexico — they were incredibly cooperative. But we negotiated and used diplomacy and the State Department and DHS were in sync and aligned and I think that helped to make a difference,” Kerlikowske added.
- Per Vox's Alex Ward: “Improving conditions in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador is a critical way to address the root causes of migration and prevent the humanitarian crisis at our border,” five retired top military officers wrote in a statement released on Monday. “Cutting aid to the region will only increase the drivers and will be even more costly to deal with on our border.”
- Kerlikowske will be testifying on the Hill before the House committee on foreign affairs on Wednesday along with Roberta Jacobson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, and Roger Noriega, the former Ambassador to the Organization of American States and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, to discuss the importance of assistance to Central America.
Case in point: An example of the kinds of legal hurdles Nielsen warned Trump about played out in real time yesterday:
- A federal judge blocked “an experimental Trump administration policy that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases make their way through the immigration court system, a major blow to [Trump] as border crossings have surged to their highest point in more than a decade,” per my colleague Maria Sacchetti.
- “U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco enjoined the Migrant Protection Protocols policy days after outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pledged to expand the program. The policy began in January,” according to Sacchetti.
- And if Trump does implement a “binary choice” separation policy without lawmakers' approval, as Nick, Toluse, Josh and Carol write, it risks another court injunction.
- “The president doesn’t like the news he’s getting on immigration and has blamed leadership at DHS, but this is not something leadership at the department can fix,” Stewart Baker, a top DHS adviser to President George W. Bush, told The Post. “This needs to be fixed in Congress, and there doesn’t seem to be any appetite for that.”
On The Hill
DEMOCRATS WILL GRILL BARR OVER MUELLER REPORT: Get your popcorn ready because Attorney General William P. Barr is on the Hill today. He's there to talk about the Justice Department's budget, but Democrats plan to use his first appearance since the Mueller report's publication to pepper him with questions.
Here's a taste:
- “I want to address a serious oversight matter — your unacceptable handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) is expected to say, according to excerpts of her testimony obtained by Power Up. “It’s been reported that the report is 300-400 pages, and I use the term reported' because we have no idea how long it actually is. All we have is your four-page summary letter, which seems to cherry pick from the report to draw the most favorable conclusion possible for the President. In many ways, your letter raises more questions than it answers.”
- Lowey plans to say that Barr's evaluation of the 22-month inquiry within 48 hours is “more suspicious than impressive.”
- “Last week, the New York Times reported that the Special Counsel’s office had already created summary documents that were ignored in your letter, and that some investigators within the Special Counsel’s office felt that your summary understates the level of malfeasance by the President and several of his campaign and White House advisors,” Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) plans to say, according to excerpts of his remarks obtained by Power Up. He chairs the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee before which Barr will testify.
- More from Serrano: “The American people have been left with many unanswered questions; serious concerns about the process by which you formulated your letter; and uncertainty about when we can expect to see the full report. I believe the American people deserve to see the full Mueller Report, and to be trusted to make their own determinations on the merits based on what the Special Counsel has presented.”
- “We expect the questions to center around the purpose of the hearing: the President’s budget and other Appropriations matters,” Brian Rell, chief of staff for Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Appropriations panel, emails Power Up. “I would be shocked, shocked, I say if other matters were to be the focus of the hearing.” [Cue the Casablanca reference]
It's not over yet: If today's hearing seems contentious, the House Judiciary Committee appears set to have Barr return to testify about the report on May 2 and top lawmakers in both parties agree Mueller will called too.
Trump mocked the man who led the agency tasked with keeping him safe and protecting his family because of his appearance —> https://t.co/bFUxmSCJD6— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) April 8, 2019
At the White House
TRUMP'S NAME CALLING: 'Dumbo' and 'Fat Jerry' are the latest derogatory names Trump is using to dismiss staff he's soured on or longtime critics -- this time for Randolph "Tex" Alles, the (now former) director of Secret Service, and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), respectively.
- Trump "soured on Mr. Alles a while ago, convinced that as an outsider he was not popular among the agents, officials said. The president even made fun of the director’s looks, calling him Dumbo because of his ears. But a Secret Service ally of Mr. Alles disputed the notion that he did not fit in, saying that the director was well liked among the work force," The New York Times's Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Nick Fandos and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report.
At a White House meeting last month during a meeting with Republicans to discuss trade, Trump went off on the Chairman leading the investigation into his presidency: “'Fat Jerry,' Trump called the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee as he prattled on about Nadler’s weight-loss surgery in the 2000s and suggested that the Democrat was still overweight, despite it," my colleagues Rachael Bade and Josh Dawsey report.
“I’ve been battling Nadler for years,” Trump told the GOP lawmakers, who were noticeably embarrassed by the outburst, several individuals in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the remarks told Rachael and Josh.
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation, and the departure of Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, leaves Trump with just three women in his Cabinet.
The lack of diversity in Cabinet-level posts is not a new development in the Trump administration. Trump’s first Cabinet had the highest percentage of white men since Ronald Reagan. Trump has also never appointed a woman or minority to one of the so-called “big four” postings (to helm the State, Defense, or Treasury departments or to be attorney general), the first time that’s happened since Bill Clinton was sworn in. (Notably, the U.S. has still not had a female Defense or treasury secretary.)
Here's how Trump's 23 Cabinet-level positions now break down:
Three women: CIA Director Gina Haspel. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Three people of color: Chao. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. And Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.
Administration-wide: The Post and the Partnership for Public Service’s tracker reveals of that 688 positions for which Trump has nominated someone so far, 163 (or about 24 percent) have been women.
Take a step back: This dearth of diversity is occurring as the most women ever are running for president and serving in Congress --- achievements made possible almost exclusively by the Democratic Party. Or as my colleague David Nakamura observed last week, the pictures emanating from the White House are almost exclusively of white aides and advisers — despite an increasingly diverse country.
THAT'S A LOT OF DEVICES: The Chinese woman who tried to get past security at Mar-a-Lago — and was charged with lying to Secret Service agents and with entering a restricted space — will remain in jail for at least another week.
My colleagues Lori Rozsa and Devlin Barrett have the latest from Yujing Zhang's court hearing on Monday:
- This is what authorities found when they searched her hotel room: “Nine thumb drives, five SIM cards for cellphones, about $8,000 in cash, several credit and debit cards, and a device used to detect hidden cameras, officials said,” Lori and Devlin report.
- That's in addition to the “thumb drive with malicious software on it, four phones, a laptop, and a separate hard drive” she was carrying when she was arrested.
- The government's said a formal indictment could come later this week: “She lies to everyone she encounters,” per Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia of Zhang. “The present charges have no allegation that she’s a spy or this is espionage, or whatever . . . There are a whole lot of questions that remain to be answered. But at this point in time, that’s not part of our allegation.”
Who is talking about what in 2020 -- in one handy GIF:
just met a guy who claims he's a democrat but he's not running for president so i'm not sure i believe him— andy levy (@andylevy) April 8, 2019
In the Media
ALSO OF NOTE:
Swalwell’s in: Rep. Eric Swalwell joins the crowded 2020 presidential field. By The Post’s Annie Linksey.
Four nation trip on the books: Pompeo to visit Venezuela border on South America tour. Via AFP.
Re: Trump's designation: Why listing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization is a bad idea. By The Post’s Jason Rezaian.
AARP dance team in formation: These NBA Dancers Spin, Shimmy And Twerk. And They're All 50 Or Older. By NPR’s Lindsey Feingold
MXCity: Is this city the PDA capital of the world? By The LA Times’s Kate Linthicum.
Vaccines blocked as deadly cholera raged across Yemen. By the Associated Press's Maggie Michael.
Meanwhile in Kazakstan: Oil-Rich Kazakhstan Calls Snap Election as Political Transition Gathers Pace. By the Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove.