In this March 30, 2012 photo, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents take a suspect into custody as part of a nationwide immigration sweep in...
Gregory Bull

With Trump’s new ICE chief, the ‘how’ matters as much as the ‘why’

Updated

About a month ago, Donald Trump withdrew Ron Vitiello’s nomination to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), because as the president put it, he decided to go “in a tougher direction.”

Even for Trump, this was an impulsive and unexpected move, which “stupefied Homeland Security officials and lawmakers” and left many in the administration “baffled.” Asked about Vitiello’s ouster, ICE officials initially told reporters “they thought the White House had made a clerical error.”

Yesterday, Trump named a new ICE nominee: Mark Morgan, who briefly ran the Border Patrol under President Barack Obama. In this case, I’m just as interested in how he got the nomination as why.

It’s not hard to figure out what made Morgan appealing to Trump: he does, after all, support building a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. But something in Roll Call’s report on his nomination stood out for me.

A former assistant FBI director, Morgan has made appearances on Fox News Channel in recent weeks to discuss both immigration policy and the report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Morgan told “Fox & Friends” on March 7 that the idea migrants – including children – were being held in cages was really a “talking point for the Democrats”

What’s more, just four days before the president made the announcement via Twitter, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs – a Trump confidant – posted a clip of an interview he’d just done with Mark Morgan in which he insisted no one from the White House had contacted him about the ICE position, but quickly added, “[I]f this president asked me to come up, I’d say yes in a heartbeat…. I know this border; the president’s doing the right thing. He’s right on this issue. If he asked, I would work for him in a heartbeat.”

Four days later, Trump said Morgan had the job. By Morgan’s own reasoning, there couldn’t have been much of a vetting process, since he admitted on national television no one at the White House, “at any level,” had communicated with him at all about the ICE post.

What do you suppose the odds are that the president saw the interview and simply made the decision?

The Washington Post reported that Trump’s Twitter announcement “caught White House aides and Homeland Security officials by surprise. They had not been informed Morgan was Trump’s choice, and at ICE, senior leaders learned of the decision from the president’s tweet, according to two senior administration officials.”

Or put another way, the process was oddly typical for this administration.

This is a position that requires Senate confirmation, though if recent history is any guide, Trump assumes the Republican-led chamber will serve as a rubber-stamp for anyone he chooses.