WASHINGTON — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson dismissed a claim from a whistleblower that the agency deleted pertinent terrorism investigation files from its database.
When asked by Thursday Senate Judiciary sub-committee Chairman if former DHS staffer Phil Haney’s testimony about the deleted records was accurate, Johnson appeared dismissive and cited ignorance of Haney, even mispronouncing his name.
“I have no idea. I don’t know who Mr. Hanen [sic] is. I wouldn’t know him if he walked in the room,” Johnson said to Cruz.
Johnson became DHS secretary in December of 2013 and Haney was investigated by his own DHS’s Inspector General, Internal Affairs, and the Department of Justice between 2013 and 2015 for giving information to a House committee.
Johnson did not say why he “had no idea” what was going on in his own IG or IA departments.
“So you have not investigated whether your department ordered documents to be modified in 2009 to remove references to jihad, radical Islamic terrorism, Muslim Brotherhood? You have not investigated that question?” Cruz asked.
Johnson responded, “No, I have not taken the time to investigate what Mr. Hanen [sic] says. No.”
“And when the United States Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on that did you or anyone on your staff inquire into those issues?” Cruz pressed.
Johnson smiled and remarked, “No, but you have me right here right now to ask questions of, so here I am.”
Cruz shot back, “But your answer is you don’t know. I am asking you in 2009 and again in 2012, as Mr. Haney testified there were two purges and that was the word he used — purge — at the Department of Homeland Security to remove references to radical Islamic terrorists. Is it accurate that the records were changed?”
“Same answer I gave you before. I have no idea, sir,” said Johnson.”
“You have no knowledge of any records being changed at the Department of Homeland Security?” asked Cruz.
“Same answer — I have no idea, sir,” said Johnson.
“Would it concern you if it was accurate?” Cruz inquired.
At this point, Johnson decided to elaborate his response saying that he found “this whole debate to be very interesting”, but that he did not care if someone was a radical Islamic extremist or another kind of extremist.
“This is very interesting but it makes no difference to me in terms of who we need to go after who is determined to attack our homeland. The other point I’d like to make, sir, is that I have to think in practical terms of homeland security. I think this is all very interesting,” he said.
“It makes for good political debate, but in practical terms, if we, in our efforts here in the homeland start giving the Islamic State the credence that they want to be referred to as part of Islam or some form of Islam, we will get no where in our efforts to build bridges with Muslim communities, which we need to do. In this current environment right now which includes homegrown violent extremists. They all…tell me ISIL has hijacked my religion and its critical we bring these people to our side,” Johnson said.
Cruz cut in saying, “You’re entitled to give speeches at other times. My question is: Are you aware the information has been scrubbed? I would not the title of the hearing on Tuesday was willful blindness and your testimony to this full committee now is that you have no idea and apparently have no intention of finding out whether DHS materials have been scrubbed.”
Cruz went on, “And you suggested just a moment ago that its essentially just a semantic difference. I don’t believe it is a semantic. But when you erase references to radical jihad it impacts the behavior of law enforcement and national security to respond to red flags and prevent terrorist attacks before they occur.”
Cruz cited recent terrorist attacks against Americans, including the Orlando shooter, who were on the radar of the FBI before their respective attacks but were never stopped before they committed their atrocities.
Johnson disputed Cruz’s description of the circumstances surrounding the cases and said the FBI already learned from the mistakes they made after the Boston bombing in 2013.