CBS’ pro-Kirstjen Nielsen national security analyst has extensive DHS conflicts of interest

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

During an appearance on CBS This Morning, CBS senior national security analyst Fran Townsend praised outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and suggested that DHS wasn’t to blame for the family separation policy. But the network didn’t disclose that Townsend’s company lobbies the government on DHS appropriations and that she is also the board chair of a company that been given DHS contracts.

Townsend is a former DHS senior adviser for the Bush administration who served with Nielsen during that time (CBS noted that she knows Nielsen and has worked with her). Townsend was a vocal supporter of Nielsen’s nomination as DHS secretary and the White House sent out a release in 2017 highlighting her praise.

Townsend defended the DHS secretary during today’s edition of CBS This Morning, stating that “she’s done her level best” and that she “worked tirelessly to, sort of, implement the president’s agenda. But it’s been a tough road. She’s had a difficult 16 months. She’s defended policies that she, at times, I think, was questioning. And so, look, she served well. I think it’s a relief for her to be able to get out and move on.”

She also passed the buck on blame for the Trump administration’s horrific family separation policy, claiming that Nielsen has “repeatedly said, and it’s true, Congress does need to act if they don’t like the policy of the administration. Some of this can be blunted if they would simply update the law, allowing children to be returned to their country of origin just like we do with Mexico and Canada, for example, and sort of not have the problem of family separations." (The idea that the Trump administration isn’t to blame for the family separation policy is a repeated and false refrain from the administration and its allies.)

But the network failed to disclose Townsend’s major financial conflicts of interest during her appearance.

Townsend is the executive vice president of worldwide government, legal and business affairs for holding company MacAndrews & Forbes. The company’s portfolio includes AM General, which produces commercial and military vehicles such as the Humvee. MacAndrews & Forbes spent nearly $3 million on lobbying in 2018, including on matters related to the DHS.

It recently lobbied both houses of Congress, the Executive Office of the President, and the Commerce Department regarding “Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, FY 2019, Customs Border Patrol vehicle issues,” according to its fourth quarter 2018 lobbying report. In the first and second quarter of 2018, the company directly lobbied DHS regarding a variety of issues, including DHS appropriations and “Customs Border Patrol vehicle issues.”

Townsend is also the chair of the board for SAP National Security Services, a technology company that provides services for “the national security community,” including DHS.  

SAP National Security Services’ most recent lobbying disclosure report states that it retains the firm Invariant LLC to “monitor defense and intelligence information technology funding and procurement policy issues” in Congress.