Chad Wolf said Monday he would be leaving the Department of Homeland Security less than ten days in President Trump’s tenure after Cabinet officials and other Trump aides saw a cascade of resignations following a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol last week Trump Supporters and instigated by the President.
Although Wolf on Thursday called on Trump to condemn the violence, his email on Monday to thousands of employees at the third largest federal department did not mention the attack on the Capitol. Instead, he attributed his decision to recent court rulings that found Wolf’s appointment by Trump to be illegal.
The Homeland Security Department, tasked with overseeing internal security, was exposed to unprecedented politicization and record sales under Wolf, and was shaped by Trump’s unique obsession with restricting immigration.
“I am sad to take this step as I intended to serve the department through to the end of the administration,” Wolf said in the department-wide email. “Unfortunately, this action is justified by recent events, including ongoing and unfounded court judgments regarding the validity of my powers as acting secretary.”
At least five federal courts, along with the Government Accountability Office, ruled Wolf’s appointment illegal last Friday. A federal judge in San Francisco blocked major last-minute changes to the U.S. asylum system that were due to take place on Monday, the day Wolf stepped down, and ruled that he lacked the authority to issue the new regulations.
“In fact, the government keeps banging the same car against a gate in the hopes that it might one day break through,” wrote District Judge James Donato.
Wolf, one of President Trump’s most loyal political candidates, said on Thursday that he would make the transition to the administration of President-elect Biden. The White House, which formally withdrew Wolf’s nomination on Wednesday when an insurgent mob overran the Capitol, insisted Thursday that its withdrawal had nothing to do with Wolf’s statement that morning calling on the president to stop the violence in Washington condemn.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday. Trump will visit the Alamo, Texas border in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, despite some leaders telling him not to come for fear of more violence.
Wolf’s resignation will take effect Monday evening when Peter Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, becomes acting secretary.
According to the American Immigration Council, Trump has a total of six Homeland Security secretaries during his four-year tenure, only two of whom have been approved by the Senate. Additionally, Trump’s Homeland Security Division had six acting directors of immigration and customs control, two acting directors of customs and border protection, and one acting director of citizenship and immigration services, whose appointments have also been ruled illegal.
Wolf resigns amid investigations into security vulnerabilities in the federal response to the Capitol breach. Former Homeland Security leaders and Biden have described the attack as an act of domestic terrorism.
Michael Chertoff, who served as the second minister for homeland security, calls on federal investigators, among other things, to treat extreme factions of Trump’s supporters as potential terrorists.
“Strange time to step down in the middle of a homeland security emergency,” Chertoff said Monday. “Disappointing move.”
Last week, following the attack on the Capitol, Chertoff compared the White House overturning Wolf’s nomination to a “parking ticket” versus “the level of security failure over the past six months.”
Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called Wolf’s timing “questionable” given information from the FBI and others that “domestic terrorists may be planning additional attacks on our government”.
“The Trump administration used the department too often as a political weapon, leaving innumerable leadership positions vacant and morale suffering,” Thompson said in a statement on Monday.
Wolf has repeatedly railed against dangerous left-wing protesters threatening federal buildings, citing the example of a federal court in Portland, Oregon that was destroyed during ongoing demonstrations. He has been criticized for sending tactical agents onto the streets of American cities using tear gas and arresting protesters in unmarked vehicles, and for downplaying the threat of right-wing, white-nationalist domestic extremism that intelligence officials have identified as one in recent years Main concern.
The Department of Homeland Security, also tasked with cybersecurity, is also grappling with what intelligence officials consider to be the most extensive hack against the US government, including 250 federal agencies and outside companies. The secret services suspect that the ongoing computer breach, an “information-gathering operation”, originated in Russia.
After Biden will inherit these challenges on January 20, Wolf wrote on Monday: “I know that the department has positioned itself for an orderly and smooth transition.”
“Greet them, train them, and learn from them,” he said of Biden’s team. “They are your leaders for the next four years.”
Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary under President Obama, pointed out that months ago the courts first found Wolf’s appointment illegal and called his argument on Thursday “a smoke screen”. She called on the Senate to uphold Biden’s decision to run Homeland Security on Inauguration Day, as it was confirmed under Obama.
“That kind of instability at the top is very problematic,” she said. “In the face of all this, Wolf had a responsibility to stay until the end.”