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Grassley warns White House not to oust any more top immigration officials

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) is urging the White House not to remove any more top immigration officials. (Pool New/Reuters/file)

The most senior Senate Republican is warning the White House not to oust another top immigration official, making appeals to the administration against dismissing Lee Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, amid a purge of Homeland Security leaders. 

In an interview with The Washington Post, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said he was “very, very concerned” regarding reports that Cissna could be next in a series of rapid-fire DHS dismissals that began late last week when the White House suddenly pulled the nomination of Ronald Vitiello, who had been tapped as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

“One, those are good public servants,” Grassley said Monday evening, after rumors of Cissna’s potential exit percolated all day. “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.” 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was a loyal soldier for President Trump and often repeated his falsehoods, but it wasn’t enough to save her job. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, submitted her resignation after meeting privately with Trump on Sunday, and the White House announced Monday that Randolph “Tex” Alles, the director of Secret Service, would be leaving his position “shortly.” Cissna and DHS’s general counsel, John Mitnick, could be the next to go, according to department officials. 

Grassley had already worked closely with Cissna, who had been detailed from the administration to work on the Senate Judiciary Committee when the Iowa Republican served as its chairman. Other Grassley alumni hold senior positions at the citizenship agency, including Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, who is the chief of USCIS’s Office of Policy and Strategy. 

“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 said. “He’s pulling the rug out from the very people that are trying to help him accomplish his goal.” 

Earlier Monday, Grassley said he texted Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to relay his concerns about Cissna’s potential departure. Once the two men got on the phone, Mulvaney said he would look into the issue, according to Grassley. 

“He didn’t seem to know who I was talking about,” recalled Grassley, whose top aides were also talking with senior White House staff about those concerns. Asked whether he wants to speak with Trump directly on the matter, Grassley said: “I’ll see if it’s necessary.” 

Grassley also said he was going on Fox News — Trump’s favored cable news channel — to make his case publicly. Cissna was confirmed in October 2017 on a 54-to-43 vote. 

The GOP senator was also critical of Stephen Miller, a senior White House adviser who has been one of the leading voices within the administration that has lobbied for the wholesale housecleaning at DHS.

“I think it would be hard for him to demonstrate he’s accomplished anything for the president,” Grassley said. When asked to elaborate, the senator chuckled and added: “It’s pretty hard to elaborate on it when there hasn’t been any accomplishments.”