Trump nominates White House aide for
homeland security post
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[October 12, 2017]
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald
Trump will nominate Kirstjen Nielsen, who as top aide to his White House
chief of staff has sought to instill order in Trump's team, to lead the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the White House said in a
statement on Wednesday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Nielsen would take the reins at a sprawling
department with more than 240,000 employees that is responsible for U.S.
border and airport security, immigration policy, disaster response,
refugee admissions and other matters.
Nielsen, 45, is a cyber security expert with a considerable resume in
homeland security that includes work at the department's Transportation
Security Administration and on former Republican President George W.
Bush's White House Homeland Security Council.
Nielsen was retired Marine Corps General John Kelly's chief of staff
when he was secretary of homeland security during the opening months of
Trump's presidency. Kelly brought her to the White House as his deputy
when Trump named him chief of staff in July to replace Reince Priebus
after only six months on the job.
The nomination requires Senate confirmation.
Nielsen's departure from the White House would mark the latest upheaval
in Trump's White House team. She was responsible for carrying out some
of Kelly's orders on who gets access to the president. As a result, she
has irritated some White House officials who now have limited contact
with Trump, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Kelly has sought to bring more order to the chaotic West Wing since
replacing Priebus. Trump has welcomed the changes to some extent,
although he has privately confided to friends that the limitations on
access to the Oval Office sometimes go too far.
Putting Nielsen into the Homeland Security post will allow Trump and
Kelly to keep a close eye on the department, but getting her out of the
White House could permit some of Kelly's strictness to be relaxed.
The department has been led by an acting secretary, Elaine Duke, since
Kelly took the White House post.
Cyber security is one of the primary issues under the Homeland Security
Department's portfolio. Nielsen previously worked at a cyber think tank
at George Washington University, blocks from the White House, and is
considered well-versed in some of the more technical missions at the
department, such as sharing cyber-threat information with the private
The department was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the
United States exposed cracks in the country's homeland security
The appointment comes at a busy time for the department, with one of its
agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, overseeing disaster
relief in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida as well as
wildfire-ravaged areas of California. The department also is responsible
for U.S. border security.
The department is a major player in implementing Trump's aggressive
stance toward deporting illegal immigrants, as well as vetting the lower
number of refugees Trump has decided to allow into the United States and
devising his travel ban on six Muslim-majority nations, North Korea and
[to top of second column]
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (R) walks with Kirstjen
Nielsen, the chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security,
on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., before his
departure with President Donald Trump to Yuma, Arizona, August 22,
2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
"It seems like a low-drama pick. It's a little concerning that she
seems to have little background in immigration security and policy,
but those individual agencies are in good hands already, and there
is a strong core of career managers," said Jessica Vaughan, director
of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which
favors more limits on immigration.
Nielsen is not known for hard-line views on immigration like those
of White House adviser Stephen Miller.
If confirmed, Nielsen would be the first homeland security secretary
to have previously served as a rank-and-file member of the
department. Some previous DHS secretaries have been criticized for
not possessing enough technical fluency to address cyber threats
facing the nation.
She also served as a corporate attorney and a congressional staff
member, the White House statement said.
"Kirstjen's a policy wonk at heart, especially when it comes to
cyber," Frank Cilluffo, a former senior homeland security official
under Bush who worked with Nielsen at George Washington University.
Nielsen would immediately be given the task of helping coordinate
the federal response to potential cyber attacks that target
elections. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia
meddled in the 2016 presidential election to try to help Trump win,
in part by hacking and releasing emails embarrassing to his
Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and through online propaganda.
Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has denied any
collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
Jeh Johnson, who served as former Democratic President Barack
Obama's last homeland secretary chief, designated election systems
as critical infrastructure, widening the support the department can
provide to states. But the department has clashed with several state
officials over how best to cooperate to defend future elections.
Politico first reported the appointment.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by
Yeganeh Torbati, Dustin Volz, Doina Chiacu and Eric Walsh; Writing
by Will Dunham; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney)
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