Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s junior senator and potential aspirant for the Democratic presidential nomination, got the media publicity he wanted when he asked the FBI on Friday to open a perjury investigation into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
In a press release posted on his website, Merkley said he asked for the investigation “…after new documents show that Nielsen lied in sworn testimony to Congress about the administration’s family separation policy.”
To add to the allure of his charge, Merkley said he obtained the incriminating document from a whistleblower,
Following up on his press release, Merkley tweeted:
“I’m formally requesting that the @FBI investigate whether @SecNielsen committed perjury during her testimony under oath before @HouseJudiciary. The memo I released yesterday flat-out contradicts her statement that there was no child separation policy.”
But there’s one problem. The document, which Merkley said proved his case, proves no such thing.
The document, available here, is, in fact, quite clearly a draft of options, with multiple comments and suggested edits. Titled “Policy Options to Respond to Border Surge of Illegal Immigration,” it lays out options for dealing with 16 issues, including: Increase prosecution of family unit parents; Separate family units; Adjudication of cases in immigration court; and Interpretation of special immigrant juvenile visas.
As Roll Call, a newspaper and website that reports news of legislative and political maneuverings on Capitol Hill, has reported, the memo shows that “…officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security were exploring (emphasis added) family separation polices as a deterrent for illegal immigrants…”
In the same vein, the New York Times reported the document “…showed that Ms. Nielsen’s staff considered a range of options for dealing with the influx of families seeking asylum, including a policy that would ‘separate family units.’ “
A spokeswoman for the Homeland Security department also has denied Merkley’s charges. “What this predecisional, predeliberative memo — as well as previously leaked predecisional, predeliberative documents — shows is that the secretary was provided a menu of options to prevent the humanitarian crisis we predicted at that time and which has manifested itself today,” the spokeswoman, Katie Waldman, said to the New York Times in an email.
So Merkley ginned up a controversy out of thin air. But what the hell, he got a lot of media coverage. Isn’t that what it’s really all about?