“The Department of Homeland Security’s official watchdog is accusing his own agency of slow-walking the public release of a report about confusion that ensued earlier this year after President Donald Trump issued his first travel ban executive order.
The still-unreleased inspector general report found that senior managers at Customs and Border Protection were “caught by surprise” by Trump’s order and that agency officials “violated two court orders” limiting implementation of Trump’s directive to suspend travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, according to a letter sent to lawmakers Monday and obtained by POLITICO.
The report’s conclusions appear to be sharply in tension with the picture the White House tried to paint of the execution of Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which led to confusion throughout the air travel system, protests at airports and delays at ports of entry to the U.S.
“It really is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level,” a senior administration official told reporters two days after Trump ordered the move.
The unusual missive to Congress on Monday from Inspector General John Roth said his 87-page report was sent to DHS leadership Oct. 6, but officials have declined to authorize its release over the past six weeks.
Roth said officials informed his office that the report is under review for information that may be subject to attorney-client privilege or to a privilege protecting the agency’s “deliberative process.”
“I am very troubled by this development,” Roth wrote, referring to the deliberate process claim. “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. In fact, we regularly have published dozens of reports that delve into the Department’s rationale for specific policies and decisions, and comment on the basis and process on which those decisions were made.”
Asked about Roth’s letter, DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton defended the department’s handling of the report, as well as the travel ban Trump ordered Jan. 27.
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Despite the lack of permission to release the report, Roth’s seven-page letter does outline its key findings. He suggests that while most Customs and Border Protection staffers did their best to implement the policy humanely, the lack of advance notice caused significant problems and led to a lack of clarity on key issues, including whether so-called green card holders were covered by the ban.
“During the early period of the implementation of the order, neither CBP nor the Department was sure of the answers to basic questions as to the scope of the order, such as whether the order applied to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), a significant percentage of the affected travelers and a fundamental question that should have been resolved early in the process,” Roth wrote.
The IG review compliments CBP personnel at various ports, saying many used their own funds to buy food and water for travelers delayed by the policy. The report also finds that officers generally complied with court orders that were quickly issued freezing efforts to expel travelers from the U.S.
However, Roth said CBP defied court orders by providing guidance to airlines not to allow travelers from certain countries to board flights bound for the U.S.
“While CBP complied with court orders at U.S. ports of entry with travelers who had already arrived, 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,” he wrote.
Records obtained by POLITICO through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit underscore concerns by DHS personnel that there was no clear guidance about how to interpret the first order.
“We got a memo from the White House saying one thing and now the Press Secretary said another,” a senior CBP official wrote to an American Airlines executive in a Feb. 1 email explaining why the agency just abruptly withdrew guidance sent to major international air carriers.
Former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich said a letter like Roth’s is a rarity, but so is an agency trying to block disclosure of a report on the grounds being cited by DHS.
“It’s quite unusual. If agencies asserted these privileges as broadly as the letter says DHS is doing in this case, the ability of IGs to investigate important matters would be significantly compromised,” Bromwich told POLITICO. “In my tenure as IG, I don’t recall any instances in which the attorney-client or deliberative privileges were invoked by DOJ.”
Read the full report at the link.
Pretty typical Trump Administration stuff.