SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The former ICE spokesman in San Francisco who resigned in March after he felt his superiors were not being truthful regarding the number of people arrested during an operation to deport illegal immigrants in the Bay Area is apparently being questioned about the leak to the mayor of Oakland.
During an interview with CBS News on Wednesday, James Schwab received an unexpected visit by agents identifying themselves with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office.
"They just said that they wanted to talk to me about the leak with the Oakland mayor," Schwab told the network.
FOIA request reveals that ex-ICE spokesman James Schwab asks superiors how to respond to requests that "we didn't pick up over 800 additional targets because of the Oakland Mayor's comments. Knowing that we never pick up that many...how should I respond?" https://t.co/ykyxo8vINi pic.twitter.com/9uSP0kMLhz— Lisa Fernandez (@ljfernandez) June 28, 2018
Schwab told CBS that he is not the leak. He said he never contacted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf or her office to warn her of the pending ICE “Keep Safe” operation. The operation began on Feb. 25 and ended up netting 232 undocumented immigrants.
Days before the raid, Schaaf warned the public that ICE agents would be conducting a mass arrest and she reminded people of their rights. It has never been revealed publicly how Schaaf got the tip.
“No. I've never met her before. I never contacted Libby Schaaf," Schwab told CBS. "Never. I would never tell her. I would never tell anyone...They were very serious. He was very stern with me, and it was concerning."
Schwab said it was "absolutely" an intimidation technique.
Schaaf told KTVU that when she watched the agents show up a the home of an "ethical public servant, to me, that was the sound of tyranny knocking at his door. The idea that the Trump administration is continuing to intimidate and vilify good public servants, someone who has stood up to the simple idea that government should not lie, just offends everything I believe about government and democracy.”
Schwab did not immediately return comment from KTVU on Thursday.
KTVU also reached out Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General and the Attorney General’s Office in Washington, D.C. to seek further comment and clarification but did not immediately receive a reply. The White House also didn't respond for comment.
ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson sent an email referring to the agency's previous statement when Schwab resigned. "Even one criminal alien on the street can put public safety at risk and as Director Homan stated, while we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact," the email read. "While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well."
Schwab resigned three months ago because he said he was told to parrot the Department of Homeland Security’s account that an unspecified number of “criminals” got away, in part, because Schaaf’s warning. Shortly thereafter, 12 senators called for an investigation into whether the federal government misled the public about aspects of the operation.
At the time, Acting ICE Director Thomas D. Homan released a statement blaming Schaaf: “The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens -- making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold.”
Homan continued: “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days. However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
Schaaf is now being investigated by the federal government for obstruction of justice. And in May, Republican Rep. Steve King introduced the “Mayor Libby Schaaf Act of 2018,”which would ban officials from “the purposeful broadcast ... of information relating to any imminent action by a federal law enforcement officer or agent.” Violations could result in up to five years in prison.
Schaaf has steadfastly stood by her decision that she did not break the law. On Thursday, she reiterated that point.
“I continue to hear the threats from Donald Trump himself about my alleged prosecution," she said. "I have not officially been contacted by the Department of Justice. But that does not mean they are not using all the means they have to investigate the matter. I am assuming the worst, I am preparing for the worst. But I will not back down, I will continue to stand up for Oakland’s values and I will continue to protect all of the residents of my community.”
In an interview with KTVU in March, Schwab said he may not agree with Schaaf on everything she did. But he said the original ICE projections were to arrest far fewer than the 232 people agents took into custody. He added the agency never expected to arrest all the undocumented immigrants during the operation. And so, operation “Keep Safe” was more successful than the agency had hoped, Schwab said. That despite the fact that President Donald Trump said that the agency would have netted "close to 1,000 people" had it not been for Schaaf.
When he told supervisors he was not comfortable perpetuating that narrative, Schwab told KTVU that he was told by the Office of Public Affairs to repeat what was in the Feb. 27 news release and defer questions to the Department of Justice.
He said he couldn’t do that any more.
KTVU's Allie Rasmus and Cristina Rendon contributed to this report.