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Not much job security at Homeland as Trump goes on a purge binge

Secret Service director Randolph "Tex" Alles on Feb.

Secret Service director Randolph "Tex" Alles on Feb. 1, 2018. Credit: AP / David Goldman

A wildfire of firings

A day after dumping Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Donald Trump announced Randolph "Tex" Alles, the director of the Secret Service, was on his way out, too.

Secret Service officials suspect Alles' exit is being accelerated after the agency put the blame on the management of Mar-a-Lago for the security breach by a Chinese woman carrying suspect electronic devices, The New York Times reported.

Also, Trump evidently decided some time ago that Alles, a 35-year Marine who retired from the corps as a major general, didn't meet his "central casting" standards. The president made fun of Alles' looks, calling him "Dumbo" because of his ears, two officials told the Times.

A broader purge at DHS is expected to include the ouster of the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, and Homeland Security General Counsel John Mitnick, several reports said. Last Friday, Trump withdrew his nominee to lead ICE, saying he wanted a "tougher direction."

In addition, CBS News reports the agency's deputy undersecretary for management, Claire Grady, is being sent away because her continued presence created an inconvenience for the shake-up plan orchestrated by Trump's immigration adviser, Stephen Miller. By law, Grady should have been Nielsen's temporary successor as the senior-most Senate-confirmed official. But Trump chose Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to take over on an acting basis.

Homeland Security was created after the 9/11 attacks with counterterrorism as its main mission. The changes suggest Trump is giving more priority to the border. Also, The Washington Post notes, several of those pushed out got their jobs at the urging of former White House chief of staff John Kelly. “This feels like getting rid of all of the friends of Kelly,” said former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow.

For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump vs. the law

One of the breaking points between Trump and Nielsen was her refusal to reinstate the policy separating migrant parents and children at the border, CNN and others reported.

She told Trump that federal court orders barred a return to that practice, which Trump ended by executive order in the face of public outrage. But Trump wanted more families separated — not just if they crossed illegally, but also those who came in at a lawful port of entry legally seeking asylum. "The president refuses to understand that the Department of Homeland Security is constrained by the laws," a senior administration official told CNN.

When Nielsen told Trump that closing legal entry points would block only legitimate trade and travel while migrants continue to slip in elsewhere, he replied, "I don't care," the report said. Last Friday, on a visit to Calexico, California, Trump told border agents not to let asylum-seekers in. After he left, superior officers told them to follow the law, not what the president said, or else they would be personally liable.

A federal judge in California decided Monday to block the Trump administration’s policy of returning asylum-seekers to Mexico as they wait for a court hearing. The ruling is on hold for several days to allow the government to appeal.

Janison: Trump won't own failure

Trump has and will continue to point fingers every which way, but behind his DHS shake-up is the failure of his policies over more than two years to stop illegal immigration across the border, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Customs and Border Protection has reported 66,450 persons arrested between ports of entry in February, the highest monthly figure in 10 years.

Frequently, the president will blame Congress, where solutions do lie, but Trump's style of negotiation has been to seek capitulation, such as with his futile wall-funding shutdown. When progress and compromise seemed plausible, he'd fall back to a harder line.

He only makes it harder by predicating his demands on tall tales, like prayer rugs found in the desert, left-wing conspiracies to fund "caravans," the smuggling of fentanyl across the border (it's usually done through the mail) and the fake news that immigrants facing removal proceedings never show up at hearings. The Justice Department says most of them do.

Trump 2020: A vu toward the déjà

For Trump, unfulfilled promises present political opportunity. As The Washington Post notes, he's building his 2020 message around themes he ran on in 2016: illegal immigration (it's worse), repealing and replacing Obamacare (fail) and eliminating the trade deficit (got bigger).

Trump allies are betting the strategy will work again by bolstering enthusiasm among his most avid supporters. 

Iran roughshod?

The Trump administration on Monday designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization,” marking the first time the United States has taken such action against a foreign government entity, Newsday's Figueroa reports.

State Department officials say the move allows the United States to impose criminal penalties and sanctions against business and entities considered to be aiding Iran’s elite military force. The Revolutionary Guard has long been held responsible by U.S. military and intelligence officials for providing weapons, training and financial assistance to other terrorist groups in the Middle East and for aiding in the killings of U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

Some critics argue the latest effort by Trump to increase pressure on Iran will make it harder for the United States to engage diplomatically with allies in the region, and could prompt other world powers to take reprisals against the United States. 

Trump's taxes: Twin peeks

While House Democrats are pressing the IRS for a look at Trump's federal tax returns, their counterparts in Albany sought to help them out by introducing a bill that would let congressional committee chairs see his state tax returns.

The bill offered by State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) would authorize the state Taxation and Finance Department to release “any return” for “a specified and legitimate legislative purpose.” There are enough co-sponsors and supporters already for the plan to pass in the Senate and Assembly, but supporters expect a long court fight from Trump, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley.

What else is happening:

  • Attorney General William Barr is due before Congress Tuesday and Wednesday, ostensibly to discuss the Justice Department budget. But he will also be pressed on the Mueller report.
  • What's longer than a CVS receipt? Check out this list of notable departures from the Trump administration.
  • Another growing list: The field of announced Democratic 2020 candidates expanded to 18 with the entry of Rep. Eric Swalwell, 38, from California. He may not be able to count on his parents' vote — he told Esquire that "a year ago they bought a Trump-Pence refrigerator magnet that is still on their fridge."
  • The Trump administration canceled a four-month-old deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed dozens of Cuban players to come to the United States without defecting. Officials said it violated a trade ban because it considers the federation to be part of the government.
  • It doesn't take a closure to disrupt trade across the Mexican border. The Trump administration has shifted 750 agents from commercial to immigration duties to handle a surge in migrants, and the resulting gridlock reduced by half the number of northbound trucks that crossed into El Paso, Texas, last week, Reuters reports.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed back against Trump-fanned claims about the left supporting open borders. "If you open the borders, my God, there's a lot of poverty in this world, and you're going to have people from all over the world," he told a campaign audience in Iowa. "And I don't think that's something that we can do at this point."
  • Federal agents who searched the hotel room of Yujing Zhang, the woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago, found a “signal-detector” device used to reveal hidden cameras, nine USB drives, five SIM cards and $7,500 in hundred-dollar bills, prosecutors said in court Monday.
  • In a departure from rage tweets, insult tweets and brag tweets, Trump on Monday offered an out-of-character c'est-la-vie tweet: "The Democrats will never be satisfied, no matter what they get, how much they get, or how many pages they get. It will never end, but that’s the way life goes!"

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