As the Department of Homeland Security gains new authority over cybersecurity and continues its review of election security during the 2018 midterms, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s future at the agency remains uncertain. During a “Fox News Sunday” interview, President Trump would not commit to Nielsen continuing as DHS secretary following a Washington Post report that he is planning to remove her from the post. Just two days earlier, Nielsen stood by his side as he signed a bill into law that creates a new cyber-focused agency within DHS. “There’s a chance, there’s a chance everybody, I mean that’s what happens in government, you leave, you make a name, you go,” Trump told Fox News’s Chris Wallace yesterday when asked whether Nielsen would continue at DHS. “I like her very much, I respect her very much, I’d like her to get much tougher on the border — much tougher, period.”
Trump’s frustration with Nielsen’s performance on immigration may be her undoing. But Nielsen’s potential ouster comes at a time when the department is engaged in critical cybersecurity work and could actually disrupt efforts to take stock of how well states and localities secured their elections in the 2018 midterms as the country heads into 2020, the first presidential election year since Russia is known to have interfered with the electoral process.
DHS officials have long worried that turnover there made it difficult for the department to stay on top of evolving cyber threats. Nielsen has been at DHS for less than a year, and a new secretary would be the fourth in two years. If Nielsen leaves sometime in the near future, it would create a void at the top of a department just as it is finally taking the reins as the government’s top cyber cop — a role lawmakers have been reluctant to bestow on DHS since such proposals were introduced during the Obama administration.