On Monday, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump abruptly resigned, leaving the post earlier than expected as the country faces an increased threat of “terrorism” from armed protesters seeking to overturn the election.
The announcement by acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf came less than a week after his pledge to remain in office and just 10 days before President-elect Joe Biden was inaugurated.
Wolf cited a legal challenge to his leadership as the reason for his resignation, but it surfaced months ago.
“For months we have known that Chad Wolf served illegally in his post, so the timing of his resignation from the department today is questionable,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security committee.
“He chose to step down during a time of national crisis and when domestic terrorists can plan additional attacks on our government.”
Wolf, who had been in an acting post since November 2019 and was never confirmed by the Senate, said he was forced to leave due to “recent events,” including court rulings which concluded that he could not legally hold the post.
He did not specify the other events or cite any other factors.
“These events and concerns increasingly serve to distract attention and resources from the important work of the Department during this critical period of power transition,” he said in a written message to DHS employees.
The resignation comes a day before Trump visited the US-Mexico border wall, Trump’s flagship political project overseen by DHS.
Wolf’s departure follows the brutal resignation of other Cabinet officials angered by Trump’s role in encouraging crowds to storm Capitol Hill on January 6 over his bogus allegations of voter fraud.
Wolf condemned the violent attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, calling it “tragic and sickening.” He also said he would stay at DHS until the end of administration to ensure a smooth transition and help the department stay focused on the threats the country faces.
It is unclear what prompted him to change course, with the nation bracing for potential further violence ahead of the January 20 inauguration. The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests in all 50 state capitals and Washington, DC.
The White House made no immediate comment.
Wolf led DHS in implementing the Trump administration’s immigration and law enforcement priorities, which drew criticism that he politicized a department that was created to better protect the nation following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The department was accused during his tenure by a whistleblower of suppressing facts in intelligence reports that Trump may deem objectionable, including reports of Russian interference in the election and the growing threat posed by supremacists white.
Wolf and the department have denied the allegations.
The acting secretary defended his tenure in his statement to employees, saying DHS has tightened border security and successfully launched the cybersecurity agency that helped save the 2020 election.
“I leave knowing that the Department has positioned itself for an orderly and smooth transition to President-elect Biden’s DHS team,” he wrote.
“Welcome them, educate them and learn from them. They are your leaders for the next four years – a time that will undoubtedly be fraught with challenges and opportunities in showing the American public the value of DHS and why it is worth the investment.
Peter Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will serve as the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security until the Biden administration takes over.
“Right now our nation is facing significant challenges and it is our privilege to support national efforts to fight the pandemic and protect our homeland,” Gaynor said in a message to FEMA employees.
He announced that his position would be filled by Bob Fenton, the agency’s Region 9 administrator, on an acting basis.
Biden has appointed Alejandro Mayorkas, a former senior DHS official, to head an agency that has implemented the Trump administration’s immigration and law enforcement priorities and has been criticized for becoming politicized Consequently.
Trump appointed Wolf acting secretary in November 2019, following the resignation of Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary who succeeded Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation.
Wolf had served as Nielsen’s chief of staff and agency deputy secretary, as well as an official in the Transportation Security Administration, a component of DHS. He also worked as a lobbyist.
Trump had said he liked the “flexibility” of having senior officials in interim status despite criticism that it prevents people from planning for the long term that would give an agency more stability.
The president sent Wolf’s appointment to the Senate for confirmation after the Government Accountability Office determined that neither Wolf nor his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were legally authorized to lead DHS due to a violation of succession rules in federal agencies.
The finding put the policy changes under their tenure, particularly on immigration, in potential danger due to legal challenges, including one as recently as Friday in which a federal judge blocked sweeping asylum restrictions. imposed by the administration.