By LUKE BARR and QUINN OWEN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is set for a confirmation hearing on Wednesday in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and if he is confirmed, he’ll be the first Senate-confirmed secretary in more than a year.
President Donald Trump formally nominated Wolf for the Homeland Security job in August, but he has been serving as the acting secretary since November.
Last week, Wolf was subpoenaed to a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, but did not show up — citing his pending nomination.
Senate Homeland Security committee staff met with Wolf about his confirmation that day, two committee aides and the DHS confirmed to ABC News, but it was unclear whether the meeting took place during the time he was supposed to be testifying in front of the House Homeland Security Committee.
House Democrats had hoped to question Wolf on security threats and immigration policy.
On immigration, Wolf has been a loyal supporter of Trump’s agenda even as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which falls under DHS, faces continued scrutiny over medical care in civil detention facilities.
A new report from the House Committee on Homeland Security found that officials used the threat of isolated confinement in order to maintain control over detainees at the River Correctional Center in Louisiana and Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico.
Detainees who had submitted repeated medical requests or engaged in hunger strikes were segregated as a form of discipline, according to the report.
The findings suggest that officials at three facilities ignored mental health warnings from detainees by minimizing some suicide red flags despite evidence of self harm. Evidence of suicide attempts at Otero, River, and the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana was written off as not “serious,” according to the report.
Democrats on the committee also announced the start of a new investigation into allegations from a detention facility nurse, including reports that ICE detainees in the Irwin County Detention Center were subjected to hysterectomy operations without their full understanding or consent.
Homeland Security officials have promised to investigate the matter in addition to an independent watchdog review. ABC News has not independently confirmed the allegations.
“If there is any truth to these allegations, it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritize the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees,” ICE chief Tony Pham said in a statement last week.
Under Wolf, the department’s Intelligence and Analysis Unit has also drawn scrutiny, specifically by a whistleblower, who has alleged that the DHS withheld intelligence based on political preference.
The former chief of intelligence at the DHS, Brian Murphy, filed a whistleblower complaint describing repeated instances in which he claims the Trump administration sought to “censor or manipulate” intelligence for political purposes, including information about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 elections.
The document, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News, alleges a pattern of behavior ranging from “attempted abuse of authority” to possible violations of federal law perpetrated by some of the administration’s senior-most law enforcement and intelligence officials.
DHS has denied Murphy’s claims.
“The Department generally does not comment on the specifics of OIG referrals, but we flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy’s claim. DHS looks forward to the results of any resulting investigation and we expect it will conclude that no retaliatory action was taken against Mr. Murphy,” a spokesperson for the department said.
Wolf’s profile rose earlier this summer when he sent federal agents — against the wishes of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler — to quell violence occurring outside the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, during protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
Wolf has largely defended the department’s actions.
“We will be happy to provide resources to bring this violence to an end … across the ideological spectrum left or right, the violence needs to end.” Wolf said in August on ABC’s This Week, adding a message to local officials: “If you see this activity, take early action, bring law and order to your streets, and we can address and really avoid some of the violent activity that we’re seeing.”
Wolf and the department’s number two, Ken Cuccinelli, have also been in the hot seat after the Government Accountability Office found they were unlawfully appointed to their current roles. The DHS claimed that the GAO’s reading of the report was inaccurate and the DHS Inspector General declined to take action against the two leaders based on the GAO report.
“While DHS OIG does not have a strict policy against reviewing matters that are the subject of litigation, under the particular circumstances presented it would be pointless for DHS OIG to add its voice to what has become a bitter inter-branch disagreement,” the IG wrote in a letter to members of the House Homeland Security Committee. “Neither GAO nor DHS OIG can issue a binding determination on that issue, but a federal court can and probably will.”
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