Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen insisted on Tuesday that she never threatened to quit following an extended tongue-lashing from President Donald Trump last week.
'I have not resigned. I didn't threaten to resign,' Nielsen responded to a reporter who shouted a question as she left the Senate Homeland Security Committee's hearing room.
On Wednesday the president told a room full of sheriffs and mayors that she is 'doing a good job. It's not an easy job.'
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly confirmed reports last week that Trump launched a tirade at Nielsen during a recent Cabinet meeting.
Nielsen reportedly prepared a letter of resignation after the extended rant, focused on his complaint that she wasn't doing enough to halt illegal immigration.
Kelly told Fox News on Friday that after the Wednesday meeting, he phoned Nielsen to implore her not to quit. Nielsen used to serve as his own top West Wing aide.
According to the Washington Post, Trump unloaded on Nielsen for a full half-hour. 'Why don't you have solutions? How is this still happening?' Trump said, according to the account. 'We need to shut it down. We're closed.'
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted Tuesday as she left a Senate hearing room that she never threatened to quit after President Donald Trump targeted her in a half-hour rant in front of the entire Cabinet about the flow of illegal immigrants entering the U.S.
Nielsen (right, at the Cabinet meeting) told colleagues she was close to quitting after President Trump (left, at the meeting) laid into her during a Cabinet meeting
Trump, who has grown increasingly frustrated by a spike in border apprehensions and legal setbacks, blamed Nielsen Wednesday for failing to do enough to stop them, according to people familiar with the exchange.
PLEASE STAY: Chief of staff John Kelly told Fox News Friday that after Thursday's cabinet meeting, he phoned Nielsen to implore her not to quit
Nielsen, one person said, tried to explain the issues were complex and that the department's powers were limited by a slew of legal restrictions. She told the president her team was doing everything it could, but the president was left unconvinced.
The episode, first reported by The New York Times, left Nielsen on the verge of resignation, according to the paper, which also said Nielsen, the former deputy White House chief of staff, had drafted - but not submitted - a resignation letter.
The department pushed back against that characterization.
Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton said in a tweet that, 'The @nytimes article alleging that the Secretary drafted a resignation letter yesterday and was close to resigning is false.'
Trump blamed Nielsen for what he said was her failure to secure U.S. borders, the newspaper cited the officials as saying
The secretary, he added, was 'hard at work' Thursday 'on the President's security-focused agenda and supporting the men and women of @DHSgov.'
Nielsen did not deny the meeting had grown heated in a statement Thursday evening, but said she shared the president's frustrations.
'The president is rightly frustrated that existing loopholes and the lack of congressional action have prevented this administration from fully securing the border and protecting the American people. I share his frustration,' she said in a statement.
Trump vented about the border before the closed portion of the meeting began. ''We've very much toughened up the border, but the laws are horrible,' Trump said. 'The laws in this country for immigration and illegal immigration are absolutely horrible. And we have to do something about it — not only the wall, which we're building sections of wall right now.'
Trump and Nielsen (pictured next to Elaine Chao US Secretary of Transportation) got into a heated argument during the Cabinet meeting focused on immigration
She added that 'border security is the most basic and necessary responsibility of a sovereign nation' and said she would 'continue to direct the department to do all we can to implement the president's security-focused agenda.'
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who pushed for Nielsen - his former deputy - to be DHS secretary, told reporters Friday that he expects her to stay on the job.
He declined to say whether Nielsen had been treated fairly in the meeting, saying only, 'We had a good Cabinet meeting,' during a brief question-and-answer session in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump has growing increasingly angry about his inability to secure the border and has repeatedly called on Congress to pass new legislation to strengthen what he calls the nation's 'horrible' immigration laws.
Trump has also been frustrated with Nielsen, according to people familiar with the dynamic. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose private conversations.
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 10, 2018, as he returns from nearby Andrews Air Force Base, Md., following an evening trip to Elkhart, Ind., for a campaign rally. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, where the focus became immigration
Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, on Wednesday
During a rally in Elkhart, Indiana, Thursday evening, Trump complained, 'We have the worst immigration laws in the history of mankind.' He urged voters to 'give me some reinforcements, please' in the form of new Republican members.
While border apprehensions dipped last year to their lowest levels ever, the numbers have been ticking up in recent months, returning to more typical historical levels.
Trump has also been frustrated with Congress's refusal to fully fund his promised border wall along the nation's southern border, and some in the administration had accused DHS leaders of slow-walking more aggressive efforts to separate children from their parents at the border.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week announced a new 'zero-tolerance' policy toward people who enter the United States illegally that may cause more separations. A conviction for illegal entry carries a maximum penalty of six months in custody for first-time crossers, though they usually do far less time, and two years for repeat offenses.