Officials from the Department of Homeland Security won’t release an inspector general report to a US Senator, prompting new concerns that the Trump administration is trying to muzzle oversight.
The exchange occurred during a roundtable discussion Wednesday between officials from DHS and lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised the department’s recent decision to withhold from lawmakers and the public a watchdog report finding that the Trump administration broke the law while implementing its Muslim travel ban last year.
The report was completed last October, but agency officials have refused to authorize its public release, claiming it is under review for information that should be redacted as part of the “deliberative process.”
During Wednesday’s proceedings, DHS Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke said that release of the report was also being held up by executive privilege claims from the White House.
Duke further alleged that releasing the IG’s finding could interfere with litigation currently pending against Trump’s travel ban—an explanation that didn’t fly with Sen. McCaskill.
“I just think it’s outrageous,” the senator said.
“Government is sued all the time. We can’t use litigation as an excuse to stop information from the inspectors general,” McCaskill added, warning that such evasion could become a “trend.”
Duke responded that the department “would be happy to have a discussion” about the investigation with lawmakers behind closed doors, but that the complete oversight report can’t be released, not even for committee leadership to see.
Wednesday’s meeting occurred two and a half months after DHS Inspector General Eli Roth wrote to lawmakers saying that he is “very troubled” by the department’s refusal to publicly release his findings.
“This is the first time in my tenure as Inspector General that the Department has indicated that they may assert this privilege in connection with one of our reports or considered preventing the release of a report on that basis,” Roth wrote, according to Politico, which obtained the missive.
Roth broadly outlined some of the conclusions of his 87-page report. It found that, due to lack of notification from the White House, Customs and Border Protection officials were caught off guard by the announcement of the travel restrictions last January, causing significant confusion.
The IG also discovered that the Trump administration violated court orders that froze the travel ban, when it pressured international carriers to block certain individuals from flying.
“CBP was very aggressive in preventing affected travelers from boarding aircraft bound for the United States, and took actions that, in our view, violated, two separate court orders,” Roth detailed.