The Wash

Lawmakers and intelligence officials spar over security funding

Top security officials today called for more funding for intelligence agencies. But their pleas were derailed at a House hearing by partisan bickering among lawmakers.

A national security hearing on Wednesday devolved into shouting and insults as Republican lawmakers aired grievances with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The tension comes as a potential government shutdown looms and leading national security agencies face crises including expiring Department of Homeland Security clearances and a hard-right Republican push to slash funding for the FBI. 

Mayorkas and Wray asked lawmakers to fully finance their agencies, citing national security threats, including geopolitical foes and potential lone wolf attacks inspired by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“Lone actors and nation-states such as Russia, Iran, North Korea and the People’s Republic of China [can] use computer code to steal sensitive personal information, shut down our critical infrastructure and extort millions in ransom payments,” Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas cautioned lawmakers that the United States could be vulnerable to an attack due to a handful of DHS authorizations that are on pace to expire in the coming weeks.

The DHS lost its ability to carry out anti-terrorism initiatives that prevent hazardous chemicals from being weaponized in July, Mayorkas said.

He also said Homeland Security will lose authorization to mitigate the threat of weapons of mass destruction and gather intelligence, in addition to limiting “the Secret Service’s ability to protect the president and vice president.”

Wray reiterated the issue of expiring authorizations and emphasized the importance of continued intelligence collection.

“It would be absolutely devastating if the next time an adversary like Iran or China launches a major cyber attack, we don’t see it coming,” Wray said.

‘Ghost bus’ and Jan. 6

Mayorkas and Wray’s points went largely unaddressed by House conservatives who earlier this week attempted to impeach Mayorkas and threatened to defund the FBI.

Republican lawmakers tore into Mayorkas and Wray, accusing them of abdicating their duties and conducting a sting operation during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks with Secretary of Defense’s Christine Abizaid.

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., addressed Mayorkas first, briefly citing his failed impeachment of the embattled secretary. Higgins complimented Mayorkas as a “worthy adversary” but said that he’d made his case against him already and was done with him now. He then turned to Wray.

Higgins asked Wray several times if the FBI had confidential human sources or plants dressed as Trump supporters during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Wray said he could not reveal where he had and had not used confidential human sources but rebuffed claims that FBI plants attended the riot on Jan. 6.

“If you are asking whether the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and or agents, the answer is emphatically not,” Wray said.

Higgins continued his line of questioning.

“Do you know what a ghost bus is?” Higgins asked.

Wray said he wasn’t sure he’d used the term before.

Higgins said the term was pretty common in law enforcement. He explained that a ghost bus was a vehicle used for secret purposes and referred to a cardboard cut-out of buses behind him.

Higgins said the alleged buses were filled with FBI informants that were planted at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Your day is coming Mr. Wray,” Higgins said.

Rep. McCaul, R-Texas., called out Mayorkas for a “dereliction of duty.” McCaul cited his concern over “special interest aliens,” which the Department of Homeland Security defines as non-US individuals who pose a national security risk to the US.

“Sir, I’m going to argue that you’ve been aiding and abetting the deaths and the criminal enterprise that has occurred in this nation,” McCaul said.

Before the hearing, Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., questioned Mayorkas’ representation of the facts.

“The only person that thinks the Southwest border is secure is Mayorkas,” said Green.

Democratic lawmakers chastised their Republican colleagues, defending Mayorkas and suggesting that conservative attacks were exaggerated and unjustified.

“I think it’s incredibly dangerous to accuse Secretary Mayorkas of aiding and abetting crimes,” said Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y. “As you well know, you need to have the intent to do that, and it’s clear that, whether you disagree or not with Secretary Mayorkas’ approach to dealing with the border, that to accuse him of aiding and abetting crime is very serious, and I think, unwarranted in this situation.”

Mayorkas narrowly avoided an impeachment inquiry when the House voted Nov. 13 to send the resolution proposed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. to committee, sidelining it for the moment.

Riley Ceder

Ben Baker

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