Kirstjen Nielsen under fire for allowing Trump appointee to obstruct probe into retaliation against Obama holdovers
Kirstjen Nielsen speaks to reporters (CNN/screen grab)

Democratic Congress members are calling on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to punish a senior official for allegedly retaliating against career employees for their political affiliations — and then avoiding government watchdog agencies tasked with investigating her.

CNN reported that three Democrats — House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY), House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and ranking Senate Foreign Affairs Committee member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) — have joined the DHS Inspector General in calling for punishment for a DHS employee accused of taking retaliatory actions against career employees during her tenure at the State Department.

Christine Ciccone was deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when she reportedly began to retaliate against career State employees for "their previous work on policy priorities associated with President Barack Obama and in offices the Trump administration was interested in closing," CNN reported in January 2018.

Ciccone's alleged acts of "political retribution" included reassigning employees from their policy positions to "clearing a backlog of FOIA requests," the report noted.

The State Department's Office of Inspector General claims to have evidence of the senior political appointee's retaliatory actions in three cases — but cannot complete its investigation until she complies with an interview.

"It is outrageous that a senior Department of Homeland Security official has not complied with requests of the Inspectors General of the Departments of State and Homeland Security," the members of Congress wrote in a joint letter to Nielsen. "We strongly support the call for appropriate disciplinary action against the official."

Engel and Cummings sent a joint letter to the White House and State Department last year claiming they had whistleblower evidence that Trump appointees including Ciccone had "characterized career State Department employees in derogatory terms."

In their most recent letter, the lawmakers asked Nielsen to "report back to our Committees by Friday to update us on how the Department is ensuring that Ms. Ciccone upholds her responsibility to cooperate with the Inspector General's review."

"Targeting of career government employees at the State Department, US Agency for International Development or any federal agency is unacceptable," the Democrats wrote, "and it is imperative that this kind of behavior not be tolerated."