U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

Latest DHS shake-up adds to chaotic conditions in the Trump admin

Updated

As the Trump administration faces an outcry over its border policies, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection announced yesterday that he’s stepping down.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders told employees on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his post on July 5, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The resignation of Sanders, who became acting commissioner just two months ago, follows reports of children living in squalor at border stations where they often lack child care, bedding or even basic hygiene items.

If it seems as if the Department of Homeland Security has been losing top-level staff at a breakneck pace, it’s not your imagination. Since April, we’ve seen Donald Trump part ways with his Homeland Security secretary (Kirstjen Nielsen), acting ICE chief (Ron Vitiello), acting Homeland Security deputy secretary (Claire Grady), Citizenship and Immigration Services director (Lee Cissna), and now his acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

In mid-April, Politico reported that congressional Republicans were “alarmed” and “blindsided” by the DHS purge and had begun urging Trump not to part ways with anyone else. The president apparently did not take that advice to heart.

In fact, Trump was asked by reporters yesterday whether John Sanders’ departure was voluntary. The president didn’t answer directly, instead saying, “I don’t know anything about it. I hear he’s a very good man. I hear he’s a good person. I don’t know him. I don’t think I ever spoke to him.”

So, Trump tapped Sanders to lead Customs and Border Protection two months ago; Sanders is now quitting; and the president never even had a conversation with him? Given all that’s happening at the border, doesn’t it seem unusual that Trump didn’t even talk to his own handpicked official overseeing border-protection policies?

In case the game of musical chairs weren’t quite dizzying enough, consider whom Trump is planning to choose as John Sanders’ successor.

Turmoil intensified on Tuesday inside the agency responsible for securing the country’s borders as a top official was replaced by an immigration hard-liner and former Fox News contributor who last week pushed for nationwide raids to deport undocumented families.

That hard-liner, Mark Morgan, will take over as the head of Customs and Border Protection, administration officials said Tuesday.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Morgan is perhaps best known for making curious arguments in conservative media, including his recent assertion that he has the ability to look into migrant children’s eyes and determine whether they’ll become violent gang members.

Of course, since Trump had already tapped Morgan to lead ICE – after having fired a previous acting ICE chief – it means the White House will also have to find a new ICE nominee now that Morgan is going to CBP (unless the president expects him to do both jobs, which in this administration, is a distinct possibility).

What’s more, as the Washington Post added, “The shake-up Tuesday continued a purge of DHS leadership that Trump began in April that has left every single border- or immigration-related agency at DHS with an acting leader who has not been confirmed by the Senate.”

This president loves his “actings,” convinced that they give him “flexibility,” but this still isn’t how the federal government is supposed to work.

So why does Trump embrace this governing dynamic anyway? Because as Dana Milbank explained this morning, “The common thread to the mayhem and bungling is Trump’s insistence on staffing his government with officials serving in temporary, ‘acting’ roles at the pleasure of the president and without the stature or protection of Senate confirmation. This allows Trump to demand absolute subservience from appointees. Because he can replace them at will, they don’t contradict him. But this tentative status also means they lack authority within their agencies and the stature to stand up to Trump when he’s wrong.”

And if recent developments tell us anything, it’s that Trump is often wrong.