Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf testifies on August about the use of federal police during protests in Portland, Ore., during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli are not legally entitled to hold those positions, a government watchdog determined Friday.
Wolf and Cuccinelli's current roles are invalid because they assumed the jobs under a succession plan crafted in November by former DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, who himself had no authority to hold his job under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.
The findings could provide ammunition for critics who argue that Wolf and Cuccinelli are serving in their roles unlawfully and without Senate confirmation -- accusations that intensified after President Donald Trump's sent federal officers to monitor anti-racism protests in several cities, including Portland, Ore.
Critics say the administration illegally fills top posts with temporary appointments without seeking congressional confirmation.
Under the department's succession plan drawn up by McAleenan, his resignation in November allowed Wolf -- who then was Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans -- to take over as acting secretary, the GAO report said.
Wolf then again altered the plan to allow Cuccinelli, then principal deputy director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to assume his current role as senior official performing the duties of deputy secretary, the report found.
Both moves were invalid, the report said, because McAleenan himself "was not the proper acting secretary," meaning he didn't have authority to amend the succession plan in November.
McAleenan took over as acting secretary after Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019 -- but the report determined that he shouldn't have done so because the grounds for his succession applied only to the secretary's unavailability as a result of disaster or catastrophic emergency.
The GAO said it's referring its conclusions to the Homeland Security inspector general for further review.
A federal judge ruled in March that Cuccinelli unlawfully obtained his role at CIS. The ruling invalidated controversial directives that restricted asylum seekers' abilities to consult with attorneys and prepare before their immigration hearings.