President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the agency in charge of curbing domestic terrorism told senators that White supremacists have become the “most persistent and lethal threat” to the U.S. from within the country.
“White supremacist extremists, from a lethality standpoint over the last two years, particularly when you look at 2018 and 2019, are certainly the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists,” said Chad Wolf, who has been heading the Department of Homeland Security in an acting capacity since late last year.
The response is notable considering that Trump and Attorney General William Barr have sought to portray the nation as besieged by “left-wing” agitators fomenting violence in protests over racial injustice. After a series of attacks blamed on racism and bigotry in 2019, Trump told reporters that he doesn’t consider “white nationalism” to be a growing problem.
Wolf also told senators that the U.S. faces threats of election interference from Russia, China and Iran and that “Russia looks to denigrate former Vice President Biden.” Wolf said there’s no current intelligence proving that Iran or China have yet carried out attacks.
That, too, reflects independence from Trump, who responded to a similar assessment from FBI Director Christopher Wray last week by scoffing in a tweet that China “is a FAR greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia.”
Wolf again denied allegations by the department’s former intelligence chief, who has filed a whistle-blower complaint claiming that he was ordered to suppress intelligence on the same topics of Russian interference and white supremacists.
Wolf defended his record as acting DHS secretary in his opening testimony, telling senators he “couldn’t be prouder of the accomplishments we’ve achieved.”
He said the department has taken action against election interference from “foreign actors and nation states,” stood firm against civil unrest and violence and helped states deal with recent natural disasters.
Democrats in Congress have criticized Wolf for his role in carrying out some Trump administration policies, including its hard-line treatment of immigrants and the aggressive role the department has played in dealing with protests against police brutality in major cities.
Wolf has served in his acting role since November. DHS has been without an official leader for more than a year, an unusually long time for an agency. Its last Senate-approved secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, resigned in April 2019.
Trump named Wolf as his nominee this month after a Government Accountability Office report deeming Wolf and his deputy Kenneth Cuccinelli ineligible for their role as acting officials. The report called those appointments invalid because Kevin McAleenan, who served as acting DHS Secretary in 2019, wasn’t designated under the order of succession, in turn making other changes invalid, according to the watchdog agency.
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