Former DHS official: Plot against Whitmer was ‘reminiscent’ of ISIS

By: - October 27, 2020 12:30 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo.

Taylor backs Biden, answers for Trump admin immigration policy

Former DHHS Chief of Staff Miles Taylor.

Miles Taylor is one of several former President Trump administration senior officials who has now endorsed Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Taylor served as chief of staff to former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and acting Secretary Chad Wolf from 2017 to 2019. Taylor joins Olivia Troye, a former coronavirus adviser to Vice President Mike Pence and Former DHS General Counsel John Mitnick in backing Biden.

“Given what I’ve experienced in the administration, I have to support Joe Biden for president,” he said in an August ad from the group Republican Voters Against Trump. “And even though I’m not a Democrat, even though I disagree on key issues, I’m confident that Joe Biden will protect the country.

Taylor said he hopes a Biden administration, if elected, would broadly reform a number of DHS policies. Taylor said he and other officials were wary of Trump installing political lackeys in DHS during his time there and said a new administration needs to address specific issues, like human trafficking and sexual assault migrants face on their journeys to the U.S.

In August, Taylor said he departed the administration because he witnessed Trump offer DHS staff federal pardons if they were ever prosecuted for crimes committed while preventing illegal immigrants from entering the country. He also said that Trump wanted to fire an official for testifying on Russian election interference and tried to withhold wildfire aid to California for partisan reasons.

The Michigan Advance on Wednesday conducted a virtual interview with Taylor, who was hired by Google in September 2019 and led national security policy for the company. He has paused his work there to support Biden.

Taylor has faced criticism for waiting until August to disclose his concerns with Trump and for his role in DHS as it handed down a “zero tolerance” policy for prosecuting migrants and separating them from their children at the southern border. He’s also faced denunciation from Trump’s staunch Republican supporters.

“It’s a disaster,” Taylor said. “One of the worst policy decisions of this administration was to implement the zero tolerance policy at the southern border without due consideration, resources and debate. It was one of the most ill-considered efforts I saw undertaken, and, frankly, is one of the top reasons I think voters should kick the president out of office.”

The Advance also talked to Taylor about domestic terrorism and the extremist right-wing plot to assassinate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which he said “was very reminiscent of what we saw with ISIS when I was at DHS. These ISIS plots would be well-planned, well-coordinated.”

In an interview with the Advance last week, Whitmer also drew a comparison to ISIS.

“These domestic terrorists are working to intimidate and hurt their fellow Americans,” Whitmer said. “They are terrorists, and they need to be called terrorists by Republican leaders and Democratic leaders alike. This is anti-democratic; this is anti-American. If you heard this fact pattern, you would think that it was ISIS.”

The following are excerpts from the interview.

Michigan Advance: The recent kidnapping and assassination plot targeting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was an organized effort. Various law enforcement addressed it, including the state attorney general, Michigan State Police (MSP) and the FBI.

Taylor: I’ll say this: To me it was very reminiscent of what we saw with ISIS when I was at DHS. These ISIS plots would be well-planned, well-coordinated. They would involve multiple operatives who were well-networked, who would use secure communications to hide their planning, who would engage in pre-operational activity including identifying and casing targets, weapons training … That’s what you would see in a sophisticated terror operation. But usually those were plots we were seeing hatched in overseas conflict zones and not America’s backyards.

Michigan Advance: The president has said multiple times that Antifa and left-wing extremists are posing one of the biggest threats to the security of the nation. FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that domestic terrorism — specifically from right-wing groups — is more of present threat, while Antifa is more of an ideology. What do you think about that?

Taylor: I fully agree with Wray. I mean, I served with him in government. We spent a lot of time with the FBI director and I share his assessment. In fact, as early as the first year of the Trump administration, we were very actively warning the White House about an uptick we were seeing in domestic terrorism around the country. We were seeing a growth in cases and primarily those cases were from violent white supremacist groups. The majority were not from left-wing terrorist organizations and that’s not to say Democrat or Republican. It’s just really to characterize where their ideology sits on a political spectrum.

These FBI agents don’t decide to take cases on the basis of politics. They decide to take cases on the basis of threat to American lives, and the White House had no interest in hearing about that because the president conflated the idea of right-wing terrorist groups with his own base, and he was concerned that by talking about this threat, we would alienate potential supporters.

Michigan Advance: You’ve previously indicated there are other former members of the Trump administration who might speak out about the administration’s practices. Have they done that to the extent you wanted to see? 

Taylor: I absolutely would have loved to have seen more people speak out, but at the same time, I’ve been very encouraged by what I have seen since I came out against the president.

Michigan Advance: Would you outright say the president is a threat to national security? 

Taylor: Yes, and it pains me to say that. In fact, I couldn’t have imagined in my life that I would say that an American president is himself a threat to national security.

During my two-and-a-half years in the administration, one of the top three threats to the United States, in our view, was Russian interference in our democracy and the things that the Russian government was trying to do to sow discord, divide Americans and commit espionage.

But today, we see the president doing insane things that the Russians could have only ever dreamed of. What the president’s doing to undermine the integrity of the election and to create doubt about our democratic process is worse than some of the things that we saw the Russians planning to do.

So do I think he’s a threat to national security? Yes, actually directly because the President is doing our enemies a favor by finding ways to divide the country.

Immigration detainees at the Eloy federal contract prison. Photo by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Michigan Advance: Reporting shows you were familiar with this administration’s “zero tolerance” migration policy at the border. In recent days, a court document filed by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] showed that the parents of 545 children separated cannot be found. What is your response to that?

Taylor: It’s a disaster. One of the worst policy decisions of this administration was to implement the zero tolerance policy at the southern border without due consideration, resources and debate. It was one of the most ill-considered efforts I saw undertaken, and, frankly, is one of the top reasons I think voters should kick the president out of office.

Michigan Advance: Do you regret getting involved with this administration altogether, especially in your capacity under Secretary Nielsen?

Taylor: I don’t, and here’s why. My fear going into the administration was that the president was going to install lackeys and unqualified advisors throughout the government in crucial departments and agencies, and that it would’ve been much worse.

People took jobs in this administration because they knew this man was inexperienced at best and deeply unstable at worst.

Michigan Advance: What kind of criticism have you faced from Republicans loyal to the Trump administration?

Taylor: It’s what you’d expect and I went into it eyes wide open. There’s critics out there who have said that in doing this, I’m trying to cash in and repair my reputation. What I would say to those critics is to speak out against the president, I’ve effectively sacrificed my job, my marriage, my party and my personal safety.

I’m hemorrhaging money, receiving death threats and have been effectively booted from the party. If this is what cashing in looks like, I would urge people not to try to get rich. That said, no one needs to feel sorry for me.

Michigan Advance: There’s criticism of you that says once a Trump official, always a Trump official. Some say once you’ve entered into that administration — once you’re involved — you can’t wash your hands of it. 

Taylor: It’s definitely not a blood oath that you take to be in the Trump cult. I would say it’s extremely important that people who witnessed presidential malfeasance speak out against it. Most of us that were in the administration didn’t know Donald Trump beforehand. We weren’t part of a secret cabal of Trump lovers. Most of us were career public servants who spent our lives working in national security.

When presented with the opportunity to go serve in the department that was created for another 9/11, you bet your ass I wanted to go do it, and I would do it again. And I’m proud of that public service. What I’m not proud of is what Donald Trump did to that department. When Donald Trump looked at DHS, all he thought was “immigration, immigration.” He wanted it all to be about the border wall. That’s not why I signed up for that job.

Michigan Advance: There are numerous reports of sexual abuse of migrants occurring in different DHS facilities, sometimes perpetuated by officials of DHS, Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol. If we’re talking about reforms that you want to see under a different administration, do you think that should be one of them? 

Taylor: It’s got to be taken extremely seriously, although in my time at DHS, I don’t recall — and I could be wrong — us receiving any reports of DHS officials sexually assaulting a migrant. If we had, those people would have been punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The reports I’ve seen about abuse have tended to be in shelters where people get referred to once they’re out of DHS custody … the reports I’ve seen in the past have been that in some of those shelters — which, I think, some are run by third parties — there’s been reports of abuse, most often between migrants.

That’s also unacceptable. These facilities should be safe for children, whether that’s from the staff or from fellow occupants in their facilities. That’s got to be also investigated and it’s crucially important.

Michigan Advance: Let me go back and correct something. An article I’m looking at is specifically about a pattern of sexual abuse perpetuated against migrants in immigration detention, where a number of the accused who carried out that abuse worked for ICE.

Taylor: Look, I do believe firmly believe that — whether it’s CBP or ICE — if there was ever an allegation of sexual assault of an officer against a migrant, it was dealt with swiftly and harshly. That was something people would take extremely seriously.

It absolutely has to be addressed. … I really don’t recall us being briefed on there being a major problem in that regard. We had a robust Inspector General’s office with DHS oversight committees who looked into these challenges, but whether it’s a one-off case or whether it’s a widespread problem, I think it’s got to be taken extremely seriously.

The Advance followed up with Taylor on this topic after the initial interview and sent him a link to this 2018 investigation from the Intercept, which obtained a little over 1,220 sexual abuse complaints via a public records request to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). The complaints were filed between 2010 and 2017. Complaints say incidents mostly took place in ICE custody, with half of the accused working for ICE.

Taylor called the report “chilling and disgusting.”

“I don’t remember seeing that report, but I’m sure it was front-burner for our top immigration officials at the time,” Taylor wrote in an email.



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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

Michigan Advance's C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Michigan Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.