Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley (Ore.) on Friday requested that the FBI investigate Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, saying there is evidence she may have committed perjury by lying to Congress about Trump’s policy on separating families at the border.
“The FBI has previously indicated that the Department of Justice requires a formal criminal referral from Congress to initiate an investigation concerning Congressional testimony,” Merkley said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “I write today to execute such a criminal referral.”
“Compelling new evidence has emerged revealing that high-level Department of Homeland Security officials were secretly and actively developing a new policy and legal framework for separating families as far back as December 2017,” he added.
Merkley on Thursday provided NBC News with a draft document from December 2017 that would eventually become the White House’s immigration policy. The document was provided to the senator’s office by a government whistleblower.
In the draft, administration officials discussed targeting parents of migrant families with prosecution as a deterrent, saying the “increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and would have a substantial deterrent effect.”
The draft also said DHS was “considering separating family units, placing the adults in adult detention and placing the minors under the age of 18 in the custody of [the Department of Health and Human Services] as unaccompanied alien children.”
A Justice Department official suggested in the document that Customs and Border Protection agents could deny asylum hearings to children who had already been separated from their parents.
“If CBP issues an ER [expedited removal] for the entire family unit, places the parents in the custody of the U.S. Marshal, and then places the minors with HHS, it would seem that DHS could work with HHS to actually repatriate [deport] the minors then,” the official wrote.
The policy “was specifically designed to gain media attention and generate a ‘substantial deterrent effect,’ ” Merkley wrote in his letter to Wray. “Despite this fact, while testifying under oath before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Secretary Nielsen stated unequivocally ‘I’m not a liar, we’ve never had a policy for family separation.’ ”