Democrats call for watchdog to probe 'glitzy' DHS nomination party

The chandeliers in the White House's East Room. (White House photo / Andrea Hanks / Flickr)

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The inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security should investigate a “glitzy ceremony” held at the White House to celebrate the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen as DHS secretary, says the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

“Cabinet officials and corporate lobbyists enjoyed several hours of cocktails and live entertainment,” wrote Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., in a letter dated Thursday. “I find it hard to understand how a cocktail reception with corporate lobbyists benefits DHS’s mission, particularly at a time when many parts of the country, especially Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are reeling from the effects of deadly hurricanes,” he continued.

Thompson asks Inspector General John Roth to investigate the Oct. 12 ceremony — for which the White House billed DHS $8,000, the lawmaker says — and “review the relevant policies for hosting events such as this, and the circumstances under which DHS may be charged.”

The congressman also pronounces it “troubling” that the event was staged in the East Room “a space traditionally reserved for press conferences and meetings with world leaders, not cocktail hours with representatives of special interests.”

Video of the event unearthed by Quartz magazine shows Trump Cabinet officials like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rubbing shoulders with top presidential advisers like Gary Cohn, Kellyanne Conway and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and major lobbyists for government contractors, such as Stewart Verdery, who represents companies including EADS, Safran, SAP and Northrop Grumman.

Neither the White House nor the DHS inspector general’s office responded immediately to requests for comment.

One longtime observer of the nomination process in Washington said he was surprised that such a ceremony should be held at all, because it was generally unwise to make a public announcement before the formal paperwork had been completed and sent to Capitol Hill.

“I’ve never seen an ‘intent-to-nominate’ ceremony,” said Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University. “Even press releases are unusual,” he added, because “You never know what might turn up in the vetting process.”

But another veteran Washington hand, lobbyist Charlie Black, told CyberScoop such an announcement was “not unusual,” because “once you pick someone, you want to get it out was quick as possible. Otherwise it might leak.”

“Once the president’s picked someone they’ve already been vetted,” he added.

You can read the full letter below.

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