Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf abruptly announced his resignation Monday as his agency leads critical security planning for the upcoming inauguration.
In a message to DHS staffers obtained by USA TODAY, Wolf said his resignation would take effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday.
“I am saddened to take this step, as it was my intention to serve the Department until the end of this Administration,” Wolf said. “Unfortunately, this action is warranted by recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority as Acting Secretary. These events and concerns increasingly serve to divert attention and resources away from the important work of the Department in this critical time of a transition of power.”
Wolf said Pete Gaynor, FEMA administrator, will take over as acting secretary.
“Administrator Gaynor is a consummate professional and will lead the Department ably,” Wolf said.
The White House on Thursday withdrew its nomination of Wolf to be the permanent Department of Homeland Security secretary just over an hour after Wolf urged the president to “strongly condemn” the unrest at the U.S. Capitol.
Wolf joined several former and current administration officials in denouncing the protesters who violently forced their way into the Capitol building during a joint session of Congress to count the Electoral Votes to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s win. The upheaval led to more than 60 charges and five deaths, including a woman who was shot inside the U.S. Capitol.
“What transpired yesterday was tragic and sickening. While I have consistently condemned political violence on both sides of the aisle, specifically violence directed at law enforcement, we now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends,” Wolf said in a statement.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the withdrawal had no correlation to Wolf’s statement.
“The withdrawal occurred yesterday and was not related at all to Wednesday’s events or the Acting Secretary’s comments this morning. Acting Secretary Wolf remains the acting secretary and continues to perform the duties of his office,” Deere said in a statement.
The White House did not provide any details on why it withdrew the nomination.
The acting DHS secretary was the first Cabinet official to publicly call on Trump to roundly condemn the violence.
“This is unacceptable. These violent actions are unconscionable, and I implore the President and all elected officials to strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., bashed the outgoing acting secretary, citing the timing of the decision and its proximity to the Jan. 20 inauguration. DHS oversees the Secret Service, which is leading the inaugural security operation.
“He has chosen to resign during a time of national crisis and when domestic terrorists may be planning additional attacks on our government,” Thompson said. “Unlike others, he is apparently not leaving the Trump Administration on principle.”
Thompson went on to assail Trump administration’s leadership of the department.
“The Trump Administration too often used the Department as a political weapon, left countless senior leadership positions vacant, and let morale suffer,” Thompson said. “Our homeland security has diminished as a result. Thankfully, with a new administration, the 240,000 men and women of the Department of Homeland Security will have much better leadership soon and this dark chapter will be over.”
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas to become the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the DHS, which oversees immigration policy and border security among its vast portfolio.
The department has been one of the most contentious arenas in the federal government as President Donald Trump sought to tighten border security, reduce refugee admissions, increase deportations and build a larger wall along the border with Mexico.
Mayorkas, a Cuban American who arrived with his parents as refugees from Fidel Castro’s regime in 1960, once served as deputy secretary of the department and headed its citizenship agency.
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