In this March 14, 2019 photo, a 7-month old boy peers over the shoulder of his mother as they wait for DHS agents to apprehend them at the U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas.
Photo: AP

On May 31, 2018, the Twitter account for Tyler Q. Houlton, former press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, sent out a tweet lecturing Senator Dianne Feinstein of California about the Trump regime’s immigration policies. The DHS tweet was shocking for its aggressive nature, but newly released emails reveal that the tweet wasn’t just a hot-headed, spur-of-the-moment slip-up. The tweet went through revisions and was reviewed by numerous people before it was sent out into the world.

The bizarrely confrontational tweet, which is still up on Twitter, starts with “News Flash @SenFeinstein: We don’t have a policy of separating families.” But as we now know, the Trump regime did, in fact, have a policy of separating children from their families at the border, and the policy never really stopped.

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Children are still taken from their families if they’re traveling with someone like a grandparent or uncle and those kids, sometimes as young as 4 months old, are classified as “unaccompanied minors.” And those children are often held with limited access to food and water in disgusting concentration camps, described as “torture facilities,” by a physician who recently visited one in Texas.

The DHS tweet from March 2018 continued, “If you commit a crime in this country, the police will take you to jail regardless if you have a family or not. Illegal aliens should not get preferential treatment because they happen to be illegal aliens.”

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No one in U.S. concentration camps is getting “preferential treatment,” as all the world can now see. Six migrant children have died in U.S. custody since the tweet was sent, and no migrant children had died in U.S. custody in the previous decade.

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The DHS tweet may not seem that strange from the dizzying perspective of 2019, but this kind of posturing by a federal agency against a sitting senator would’ve been frowned upon before President Donald Trump took power. In fact, it seems pretty unheard of for a government agency that’s supposed to be calm and collected.

But how and why did the tweet get sent? Gizmodo obtained internal emails about the tweet through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted in May of 2018. The DHS emails were delivered to Gizmodo yesterday.

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The press secretary’s ire was apparently first raised after someone at DHS saw this tweet from Bloomberg News journalist Sahil Kapur:

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Katie Waldman, an assistant press secretary for Public Affairs at DHS, sent the tweet to her boss Tyler Houlton and to Jonathan Rath Hoffman, another assistant secretary at the baby jail propaganda agency.

The three-person team then brainstormed different tweets over email, all apparently with the assumption that they should address Senator Feinstein directly. Unfortunately for us, much of the discussion has been redacted:

Screenshot: FOIA/DHS

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But we do get glimpses of the process that show it wasn’t just Houlton tweeting wildly, as Gizmodo first assumed. At one point Hoffman asked if “OLa,” presumably DHS’s Office of Legislative Affairs, had approved the tweet yet.

“What did OLa say? Don’t want to hit a member without their sign off,” Hoffman wrote to his colleagues.

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Eventually, they landed on wording that they liked and Houlton sent an email to Waldman with “Katie go ahead and tweet this.” After the tweet was sent, Houlton distributed an email to over half a dozen people at DHS asking them to spread his tweet in stories. Believe it or not, it seemed like he was pretty proud of the effort.

“All - Senator Feinstein is drafting legislation to prevent the policy of separating families at the border. As we all know, no such policy exists and we need to push back,” the email from Houlton said.

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The sloppy formatting suggests that the language they landed on was a hybrid of at least two different ideas:

Screenshot: FOIA/DHS

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The emails from attorneys at DHS have largely been redacted as well, but we get a sense of what they might contain from Houlton’s responses.

“Yes. It was rapid response in order to push back on false narratives in real time. Does OGC need to approve tweets?” Houlton said in an email to attorney John M. Mitnick, presumably referring to the Office of General Counsel. We never get the answer to that question but another email from Houlton to his assistants says that they need to “discuss improving rapid response.”

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Given the context, one can imagine that the DHS lawyers were a bit concerned that agency officials were tweeting so obnoxiously at a sitting senator. Or at least one would hope that they’d be concerned. We can’t know for sure, given the redactions, but you can read all of the emails that were released to Gizmodo at the Internet Archive.

Houlton has since moved over to a job in the U.S. State Department and Hoffman has moved to the Pentagon as the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs. Admittedly, it’s not clear where Houlton or Hoffman are, currently, since the Trump regime is a parade of dunces that get shuffled around to a new position virtually every month. But wherever they are, I’m sure they’re being as honest today as they were last year.

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This back and forth between employees at DHS may seem like it’s not very important a year later, especially since children are literally dying on the U.S.-Mexico border right now as a direct consequence of the Trump regime’s policies. But the emails do give us some valuable information that we should keep in mind during the Trump era: Even when it seems like members of the Trump regime are doing something off the top of their heads, there’s a good chance that it’s been planned and studied meticulously, especially when they’re lying.

And as they say, the cruelty is the point. Especially on Twitter, as any user will tell you.

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