Outgoing DHS lawyer calls to up security ahead of ‘next Jan. 6’

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A departing top lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who also counseled the House Jan. 6 committee warned of the need to bolster security ahead of the upcoming election to ensure a coordinated response to the “next Jan. 6.”

Joseph Maher, DHS’s principal deputy general counsel, has left the department to become a partner at Nixon Peabody, where he will advise clients both on national security issues as well as navigating congressional investigations. 

His exit caps more than 20 years of government service on national security issues, reflecting during his departure on the need to safeguard the coming election and the certification of the results.

“I think the risk of violence for the future is not insignificant. And so it’s important for our national security apparatus to be ready to handle that,” Maher said.

Maher served on the now-disbanded Jan. 6 committee as a senior counselor to then-Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who served as the panel’s vice chair. He also briefly led the DHS intelligence unit before the attack on the Capitol. 

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He said events like the Jan. 6 certification of election results should be designated as a national security special event, which puts the Secret Service in charge of leading the security response to an event deemed to be a possible target for terrorist activities. The move would expand the resources during a day otherwise largely handled by the Capitol Police.

“There needs to be that kind of cross security agency coordination that really needs to happen before the next Jan. 6,” Maher said.

Maher also criticized the House GOP effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which is expected to reach the Senate next week after it took two rounds of votes to pass the measure in February.

“That seemed like that was mainly for theater,” he said. “People obviously can have very strong and different views on how policies are handled, immigration policies in particular, and that’s understandable. The Secretary of Homeland Security has to deal with that. But Ali Mayorkas is a very honorable person, and I think he tries to do the best he can on behalf of the country.”

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House Republicans have contended Mayorkas failed to follow immigration laws – something Maher rejected.

“He definitely does not ignore immigration laws. People do have different points of view on how our immigration laws should be administered,” he said, but those issues are routinely handled by the courts, including recent battles where judges have sided with DHS over GOP-led states.

“They should be litigated in front of the courts, and we abide by the rules of the courts.”  

Part of Maher’s portfolio will include responding to congressional investigations, something he said has come as the tenor of investigations has become increasingly aggressive and politicized, a dynamic he expects will continue to rope in the private sector.

House committees have recently set their sights on colleges and universities as well as big tech companies.

“It’s going to involve not only current administration officials…but also it’s going to involve corporations and different aspects of how they operate and how they impact different parts of the population,” he said.

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“One of the things I’m interested in doing is taking my experience in that arena and being able to use it for different clients in how they navigate that process. In general, the goal is to have Congress get the information it needs to be able to enact legislation, but also to do so without undertaking unnecessary risks for organizations that are not really relevant to legislating.”

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