US House Democrats probe Homeland Security firings

Separately, White House refuses House Oversight Committee's request for top aide Stephen Miller to testify to Congress.

    Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a border security briefing [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
    Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a border security briefing [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

    US Democratic politicians on Thursday sought documents on Trump administration firings of top officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), saying they were concerned the dismissals were prompted by the officials' refusal to break the law.

    Three United States House of Representatives committee chairmen sent a letter to DHS asking for documents related to actions by Republican President Donald Trump and top aide Stephen Miller to remove senior leaders at the agency.

    They expressed concern that the firings and forced resignations earlier this month put US national security at risk.

    "We are also concerned that the president may have removed DHS officials because they refused his demands to violate federal immigration law and judicial orders," the politicians said in a statement.

    They said they were troubled by reports that Trump wants to put Miller, who has spearheaded many of his hardline immigration policies, in charge of all immigration and border affairs.

    They cited reports that Miller called several DHS officials to exert pressure on them to follow on "extreme immigration policy decisions", according to the statement from US Representatives Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. All three are Democrats.

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned under pressure this month, followed by several other leaders at the sprawling department that includes Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

    WH refuses request for Miller to testify

    Meanwhile on Thursday, the White House refused a request for Miller to testify to Congress.

    In a letter on Wednesday to the House Oversight Committee, the White House said Miller would not testify before the panel about Trump immigration initiatives, including the policy of separating migrant children from their parents and his threat to send undocumented immigrants to so-called "sanctuary cities".

    "In accordance with long-standing precedent, we respectfully decline the invitation to make Mr Miller available for testimony before the committee," the White House counsel said in the letter, which was provided to Reuters News Agency on Thursday. 

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    The refusal is part of a wider pushback by the Republican president against legal requests from the Democratic-led House, which is conducting several investigations of his administration, including his tax returns, White House security clearances and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

    Cummings on Wednesday accused Trump of an "unprecedented, and growing pattern of obstruction" after he ordered federal employees not to comply with congressional investigations.

    Cummings's office confirmed it had received the letter, first reported by CNN, but had no immediate comment.

    Cummings on April 17 invited Miller to testify voluntarily about why the administration decided to separate immigrant children from their parents at the border.

    Cummings also called for an explanation of "transferring asylum seekers to sanctuary cities as a form of illegal retribution against your political adversaries, and firing top administration officials who refuse orders to violate the law". 

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    Trump has said he is considering sending undocumented immigrants in the country to jurisdictions that have adopted some form of "sanctuary city" policies in which they refuse to use their resources to help federal agents enforce deportations.

    Miller, a former Senate aide, has helped shape some of Trump's most controversial immigration policies, from the first travel ban that targeted several Muslim-majority countries to the child separation policy, both of which were rejected by courts.

    The oversight panel could exercise its power to subpoena Miller, but the White House could invoke executive privilege to protect his discussions with Trump.

    SOURCE: News agencies