Whistleblower's lawyer says his client was demoted at Homeland Security Dept. for political reasons

Suzanne Smalley
·Reporter
·4 min read
National security lawyer Mark Zaid is photographed at his home in metro Washington, DC area, on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Lawyer Mark Zaid in 2016. (Nikki Kahn/the Washington Post via Getty Images)

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf removed a top deputy from his post because Wolf believed it would enhance his chances of being nominated and confirmed as head of the department, a lawyer for the deputy said on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.”

“If I remove you it’s gonna make me look better ... because I want to be the nominee,” Wolf told the deputy, Brian Murphy, according to Murphy’s lawyer, Mark Zaid.

A DHS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about Zaid’s claim.

Murphy, who until last month served as an acting DHS undersecretary overseeing intelligence, emerged this week as a high-ranking whistleblower, alleging in a formal complaint filed with the department’s inspector general that Wolf had improperly directed him to play down reports about Russian interference in the 2016 election because it “made the President look bad.”

The White House and the DHS have denied his account and asserted that Murphy, a former FBI special agent, was a “disgruntled” employee upset over his demotion by Wolf — and his transfer to an administrative position — following reports that Murphy had been collecting information about the social media posts of journalists. Murphy was accused of overseeing the creation of “intelligence reports” about journalists and protesters in Portland, Ore. Later, his division was also accused of creating similar intelligence reports about journalists who were reporting on the department’s intelligence-gathering practices.

But Zaid, responding to those claims on the “Skullduggery” podcast, offered a different account of Murphy’s actions and his demotion. He said the news reports about Murphy’s actions were inaccurate.

“What they were doing was monitoring how the Russians were using U.S. reporters’ reporting and distorting that for disinformation purposes,” Zaid told Yahoo News. “Murphy says Chad Wolf told him specifically that ‘I know that’s not what you were doing. I know that’s what the office was not doing. But if I remove you it’s gonna make me look better ... because I want to be the nominee.’”

Murphy, one of the most senior officials to file a whistleblower complaint in recent memory, says he was being punished for repeatedly declining to improperly alter intelligence assessments.

“Wolf didn’t think Murphy did anything wrong, but Wolf is completely annoyed and upset with all of the instances and examples where Murphy was declining to follow his and White House instructions to cook the books and politicize intelligence. So this gave him the opportunity to demote him,” Zaid said.

When asked why Murphy didn’t come forward as a whistleblower in May — when he says he was first asked not to provide intelligence assessments focused on Russian election interference — Zaid said Murphy waited because he hoped to fix the problem without going public.

“Have we ever seen a whistleblower so publicly come out who was so senior?” Zaid asked. “We don’t, because most of the time they try to work it through the system and persuade the other officials ... to change their position.”

Zaid said Murphy faces potential retaliation and may not be employable at the DHS for the foreseeable future, underscoring the risks he took in coming forward. He said Murphy should be lauded for speaking out, not attacked for taking several weeks to do so.

“He was willing because of the stature of his position — and there’s no way to hide his identity — to step up and say, ‘I think this is wrong,’” Zaid said. “We should be praising that, because we want more officials to do that, rather than start to question, ‘Well, why didn’t you do it sooner?’”

Murphy is slated to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 21.

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