Democrats assail Gen. Kelly’s ‘unethical’ role in firm that runs Homestead migrant camp

Two Democratic lawmakers, including one running for president, are calling on the company that operates the Homestead detention center for unaccompanied migrant children to disclose details on how Gen. John Kelly — President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff and ex-secretary of Homeland Security — landed a spot on its board of advisers.

The inquiry to Caliburn International on Thursday comes two months after the Miami Herald reported on Kelly being mysteriously spotted at the South Florida shelter on a golf cart in early April.

About a month later, the Herald revealed that Caliburn quietly had gotten a new, $341 million no-bid contract from the Department of Health and Human Services, and that Kelly had joined the company’s board before the contract was awarded.

The last contract was the most recent of three, collectively granting Caliburn more than half a billion dollars in federal funds in 16 months.

United States Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for president, and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Seattle, introduced ethics legislation, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, that would make it illegal for Caliburn or any DHS contractor to pay General Kelly or any other former senior DHS official any money in the first four years after their leaving office.

John Kelly, then chief of staff to President Donald Trump, speaks to the news media during a briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Oct. 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Olivier Contreras TNS

“General Kelly’s decision to serve in this capacity raises serious questions about ethics and conflicts of interest given the significant role he played in implementing the policies that are enriching your company,” the two wrote in a letter to Caliburn Thursday. “We intend to keep working to make that plan law so that actions like General Kelly’s rapid, cynical, and unethical shift from the government payroll to the contractor’s payroll are no longer allowed.”

Warren and Jayapal aren’t alone in demanding officials undertake a probe of the no-bid deal. In mid-May, U.S. Reps. Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell demanded that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services look into how the contract was awarded and explain the role of Kelly, if any, in engineering the deal.

“We want to…seek clarity on [Kelly’s] engagement and influence in the process. We find it troubling that General Kelly’s tenure in the administration led to a dramatic increase in both the number of children held at the Homestead facility and the duration of time that unaccompanied children are being kept in government custody,” the three Florida lawmakers said in their letter to the Office of the Inspector General.

As DHS secretary and then White House chief of staff, Kelly advocated for the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that led to forcibly separating thousands of migrant children from their parents. The camp at Homestead is for children who arrived at the border unaccompanied by parents.

Neither Kelly nor Caliburn responded to requests for comment from the Miami Herald.

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.