Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Wednesday that attempts to influence the U.S. election run well beyond Russia, with China and Iran also deeply involved — though, unlike Russia, they are working against President Trump.
Testifying to the Senate for his nomination to become the fully confirmed secretary, Mr. Wolf was peppered with questions from Democrats about Russian attempts through disinformation to hurt the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Mr. Wolf confirmed the threat but said it goes beyond Russia and beyond attacks on Mr. Biden.
“I know that there continues to be a lot of focus on Russia, as there should be. You cannot do that at the exclusion of making sure that we continue to address the threats that are from both China and Iran,” he said.
He acknowledged that Russia is looking to attack Mr. Biden but said China “prefers” Mr. Biden, as does Iran.
It’s a decidedly different approach from that of FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who last week singled out Russia as “very active” in trying to influence the election and “denigrate” Mr. Biden.
That summation drew a rebuke from Mr. Trump, who declined to say whether he still had confidence in his FBI chief.
“The big problem is China. And why he doesn’t want to say that, that certainly bothers me,” the president said.
Mr. Wolf, though, said “all three are a threat” and operate in different ways.
He said no intelligence indicates any of them are penetrating elections systems, as U.S. officials say Russia attempted to do in 2016.
“That’s not to say they can’t or they won’t. But as I sit here today, they’re not focused on election infrastructure,” he said.
Democrats on the committee crowed over Mr. Wolf’s mention of Russia.
“The answer is that Russia is in fact seeking to advance propaganda against Vice President Biden. Thank you for confirming that,” said Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat.
Mr. Wolf was confirmed as undersecretary for strategy in a 54-41 vote last November. He then ascended to become acting secretary under a chain of succession announced by his predecessor, acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
That chain of succession has been challenged by Democrats, who won a nonbinding ruling from the Government Accountability Office that Mr. McAleenan wasn’t properly installed, so his new chain of succession that led to Mr. Wolf’s rise is also invalid. A federal court has also ruled that the chain of succession is likely illegal.
Mr. Wolf said Wednesday that the department adamantly disagrees with the GAO’s ruling, which he said ignored key parts of the Homeland Security Act.
His confirmation to the top job would put all of those questions to rest, including settling some of the court challenges, said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.
While serving as acting secretary, Mr. Wolf oversaw the administration’s forceful response to riots in Portland that targeted the federal courthouse in the Oregon city. Local police were ordered not to help, so he deployed additional federal officers and agents to protect the building.
The move sparked lawsuits and criticism, but it also forced state and local leaders to agree to deploy their own police, as is customary.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and the senator who introduced Mr. Wolf at Wednesday’s hearing, called his handling of Portland a trial by fire and said it proves that the acting secretary deserves to be confirmed.
“He was not cowed by the partisan anger of the moment. He was not willing to abandon a federal courthouse which was still hearing cases, was still in operation. He was not willing simply to hand the courthouse over to the mob and allow them to burn the courthouse to the ground,” Mr. Cruz said.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats lined up against Mr. Wolf.
The chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, sent a letter to senators Tuesday calling Mr. Wolf “unfit.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus weighed in Wednesday by accusing Mr. Wolf of overseeing “some of the most disturbing immigration policies in our country’s history.”
The Hispanic caucus called Mr. Wolf an “architect of the family separation policy” that left thousands of children in government custody, separated from their parents after they illegally crossed the border as families in 2018.
Mr. Wolf rebutted that accusation Wednesday. He said an email chain that included a memo with the separation option was not his work. At the time, he was chief of staff to Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and said he was a conduit for information.
Immigration policymaking was “not in my portfolio,” he said.
Mr. Wolf vehemently denied having squelched intelligence reports that disagreed with Mr. Trump’s assessments about white supremacy and violence. He also said an accusation that he demoted a whistleblower over the matter was “a fabrication.”
He said the whistleblower was ousted because he ordered information to be collected on American journalists covering the Portland riots.
Mr. Wolf also rebutted a whistleblower complaint out of Georgia claiming doctors were performing unnecessary or botched operations, including hysterectomies on migrant women.
“Some of the facts on the ground and the facts we have seen do not back up those allegations,” Mr. Wolf said. “But if there is a kernel of truth to any of that, you can guarantee I will hold those accountable.”
The acting secretary said he didn’t know about the contract until NBC raised it. He said he has no role in procurement so he couldn’t have been involved.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.