White House abruptly transfers DHS official amid loyalty purge

Department of Homeland Security sign
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The Department of Homeland Security main office in Washington. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
The White House removed a top public affairs official at the Department of Homeland Security in a move that shocked many in the department as it takes a lead role in handling the coronavirus pandemic, according to two former senior DHS officials familiar with the matter.
Heather Swift, who was DHS’ deputy assistant secretary of public affairs, was abruptly pushed out of her position on Friday after the Presidential Personnel Office raised questions about her loyalty to President Donald Trump, said one of the former DHS officials.
The personnel office may have discovered some old social media posts that officials there did not like, this person said, though POLITICO was unable to find any examples of posts the Trump administration might find objectionable.
Swift, who has not yet left the department, is moving to a top communications job at the National Endowment for the Arts, a detour well outside the administration’s power corridors.
The transfer represents a fresh blow to Swift’s career aspirations: Several months ago, after serving for a few months in an acting capacity as the top public affairs official at DHS, she angled for that job permanently — only to be disappointed when she was not promoted, according to a Trump administration official. The position instead went to Dirk Vande Beek, a veteran communications strategist who came from the Department of Energy and also worked on the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.
Since taking over PPO, 29-year-old John McEntee has asked Cabinet agencies to probe the records of political appointees and ferret out any who might show signs of disloyalty to the president. McEntee, a former college quarterback known for his trick plays and a longtime Trump favorite, has also come under fire within the administration for recently hiring three college seniors for sensitive jobs.
One former official pushed back hard on the notion that Swift had been anti-Trump in any way and called her a Trump “acolyte” who “loves the president” and did not want to leave the department. Swift has been a good team player, was well-liked by her staff and colleagues and has worked hard to achieve the department’s mission, this person said.
Swift and DHS did not provide a comment for this story, and a White House spokesperson declined to address Swift’s transfer, citing a policy of not commenting on internal personnel matters.
Swift has been in the Trump administration since early 2017, having joined as press secretary for then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke before becoming senior adviser at the department. Zinke resigned in December 2018 after several probes into whether he used his position for personal gain, however, and Swift subsequently moved to DHS last August.
Previously, she had worked as Zinke’s communications director when he was a member of the House. She also worked on other Republican campaigns, including a brief stint as press secretary for former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson during his unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
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March 25, 2020
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