WASHINGTON — They juiced the numbers to fabricate a non-existent terrorist threat on the southern border to make the case for President Trump’s border wall. They buried the intelligence about Russian interference in American elections to keep the president happy. They demanded the reassignment or termination of “deep state” analysts whose reports didn’t fit the administration’s predetermined narrative about violence and corruption in Latin America. And they retaliated against the career official who dared to question or resist these moves.
“They,” in this case, refers to a crew of political appointees who have led the Department of Homeland Security during Trump’s first term, including but not limited to current Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and senior DHS official Ken Cuccinelli. These high-ranking Trump officials and others are the subject of a 24-page whistleblower complaint, released on Wednesday, that was filed by Brian Murphy, the former principal deputy undersecretary in DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, where he was responsible for all of DHS’s intelligence work.
Murphy’s complaint alleges a staggering array of wrongdoing, including perjury and illegal retaliation, not to mention deceptions perpetrated on the American people. A former active-duty Marine and FBI agent, Murphy says he was demoted from his position as the top intelligence official at DHS and an adviser to the Homeland Security secretary as retribution for speaking out against the alleged wrongdoing described in his complaint.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Murphy’s complaint.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House intelligence committee, released Murphy’s whistleblower complaint and has asked Murphy to testify in private on September 21. Schiff said in a statement that Murphy’s complaint “outlines grave and disturbing allegations that senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials improperly sought to politicize, manipulate, and censor intelligence in order to benefit President Trump politically.”
Here are the key allegations in Murphy’s complaint:
Top Trump officials pushed to downplay the threat of white supremacy and Russian election interference
In March, Murphy and his team at the Office of Intelligence and Analysis produced a draft of a Homeland Threat Assessment that outlined the various threats to the nation. An earlier draft of that report contained two sections on white supremacy and Russian interference, which allegedly set off alarm bells with DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, a senior DHS official and right-wing anti-immigrant firebrand.
Murphy alleges in his complaint that one of his colleagues at the time was told not to circulate that version of the report “due to concerns raised by Wolf and Cuccinelli regarding how the [Homeland Threat Assessment] would reflect upon President Trump.”
Murphy goes on to say that Cuccinell demanded Murphy “modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.” Murphy declined to make the changes, writing in his complaint that doing so “would constitute censorship of analysis and the improper administration of an intelligence program.”
Ultimately, responsibility for the report was taken away from Murphy. The final version, which has not yet been released, will “more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document as originally formulated by DHS I&A,” Murphy states in his complaint.
The White House demanded DHS stop providing intelligence assessments about the ongoing threat of Russian election interference
According to Murphy’s complaint, Acting DHS Sec. Wolf told him in May that he should “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States.” Instead, Murphy alleges, Wolf instructed him to report on possible interference by China and Iran. These instructions, Murphy states, came straight from the top — namely, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
A few months later, DHS brass tried to silence Murphy again, he claims. On July 7, 2020, DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis emailed Murphy and told him to stop sharing any intelligence about Russian interference until Murphy had spoken with Acting Sec. Wolf. According to Murphy, he met with Wolf the following day. Wolf told him that updates about new intelligence showing Russian interference in the U.S. should be “held” because it “made the president look bad.” Murphy says he refused to do this and said it was “improper to hold a vetted intelligence product for reasons for political embarrassment,” as he writes in his complaint.
Trump wanted to fire a senior DHS official who confirmed Russia’s 2016 election interference to Congress
In September 2018, David Glawe, the undersecretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence, testified before Congress and confirmed that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections. This was not a shocking statement: By that point, U.S. intelligence agencies, congressional investigations, cybersecurity experts, and news organizations had reported on the multifaceted effort by the Russian government and its allies to disrupt the ’16 campaign.
But Glawe’s testimony infuriated Trump, according to Murphy’s whistleblower complaint. Glawe “was subsequently summoned to the White House” soon after his testimony. Glawe told Murphy that he’d already been told by then-DHS Sec. Nielsen that Trump wanted him fired.
After his meeting at the White House, Glawe allegedly told Murphy that “while he would continue to support [Murphy] on most matters, [Murphy] was on his own when it came to election interference assessments.”
A Trump loyalist demanded the removal or firing of “deep state” analysts
Last December, Murphy attended a meeting with Cuccinelli to talk about intelligence reports regarding three Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The reports, Murphy writes, were “designed to help asylum officers render better determinations regarding their legal standards.”
But Cuccinelli didn’t like what he read in the reports, which were consistent with past assessments, Murphy says. Cuccinelli asked for changes “to the information outlining high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in the three respective countries.”
Cuccinelli went further, accusing the government employees who produced the reports of being “deep state intelligence analysts” who wanted to undermine the president’s agenda. Cuccinelli “ordered” Murphy and Glawe, his DHS colleague “to identify the names of the ‘deep state’ individuals who compiled the intelligence reports and to either fire or reassign them immediately,” Murphy’s complaint reads. Murphy says Cuccinelli’s request was illegal and “constituted an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program.”
DHS officials fabricated a terrorist threat at the southern border — and misled Congress — to make the case for Trump’s border wall
Murphy alleges that on at least two occasions he was instructed by aides to then-DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen to manipulate the available intelligence about possible terrorists entering the U.S. via the border with Mexico.
In October 2018, Murphy was told that he should “ensure the intelligence assessments he produced for Secretary Nielsen’s review supported the policy argument that large numbers of [Known or Suspected Terrorists] were entering the United States through the southwest border.” According to Murphy’s complaint, he and a DHS colleague continued to receive pressure from Nielsen’s office to reinterpret the intelligence to give the appearance of a greater terrorist threat at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Even though Murphy resisted these requests and corrected misleading data cited in internal prep meetings, he claims in his complaint that he has “a good faith belief” that congressional testimony given by Sec. Nielsen in December 2018 and March 2019 “constituted a knowing and deliberate submission of false material information.”
Murphy states that he filed two anonymous complaints about these incidents to DHS’s office of inspector general, but nothing happened as a result.
Last month, Murphy was reassigned from his position leading the intelligence office at DHS to a more junior position in the department’s management division. He alleges that his reassignment was a direct result of his speaking out about the alleged wrongdoing he witnessed.