The Department of Homeland Security recently hired outside counsel to prepare for potential impeachment proceedings, as House Republicans ramp up calls to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his handling of the southwest border.
The department entered into a contract with New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to represent Mayorkas in impeachment-related matters, in his official capacity, according to a DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The firm was selected because of its attorneys’ experience with impeachment proceedings, the official said. Recently, the firm’s attorneys represented the Democrat-controlled House in the second round of impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump.
The official also said the department opted to retain outside counsel because its own in-house legal staff did not have sufficient experience handling impeachment proceedings. It has been more than a century since the House last impeached a Cabinet secretary.
The department also wanted to ensure the department’s day-to-day duties, including cybersecurity and emergency response, were not impeded, according to the official.
DHS confirmed the agency has retained outside counsel, which comes as House Republicans heighten their criticism of Mayorkas for his response to record-high levels of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
A government summary shows $1.5 million set aside for the firm in a contract started Jan. 26, with the potential for up to $3 million.
Border agents logged more than 250,000 encounters with migrants at the southwest border in December alone, the most since monthly apprehensions began being recorded in fiscal 2000.
The Biden administration has announced programs to open some limited legal pathways for migrants with ties to the United States, while also expanding the use of pandemic-related border restrictions to expel migrants from additional nations.
But House Republicans, now in the majority, have said those efforts fall short, and they have made border security a cornerstone issue this session.
Two House Republicans, Reps. Pat Fallon of Texas and Andy Biggs of Arizona, have filed articles of impeachment against Mayorkas so far this Congress, accusing him of failing to enforce immigration laws.
House Republicans have held two hearings in the past few weeks hammering the Biden administration for its border security policies, including one out of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee any impeachment proceedings. These hearings could help Republicans build their case against the secretary and drum up support for impeachment.
According to the DHS official, the decision to hire outside counsel was cleared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and the duration of the contract with the firm was structured flexibly so it could be extended or shortened as needed.
A Cabinet secretary has been impeached only once in American history. William Belknap, who served as war secretary during the administration of President Ulysses Grant, was impeached in 1876 for bribery-related offenses.