WASHINGTON — Chad Wolf, President Donald Trump’s acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, resigned Monday, leaving the post earlier than planned and as the nation faces a heightened threat from domestic terrorism from extremists seeking to reverse the November election.
Wolf had said he intended to stay in the post until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. He announced he was stepping down days after criticizing Trump over the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Wolf had been a controversial figure in Portland after he sent federal agents in to downtown Portland to guard the federal courthouse.
Wolf, who had been serving in an acting capacity since November 2019 and was never confirmed by the Senate, said he was compelled to leave by “recent events,” including court rulings that found he could not legally hold the position. He did not specify the other events or cite other factors.
“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,” he said in a written message to DHS employees.
His departure follows the abrupt resignation of other Cabinet officials angered by Trump’s role in encouraging the mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 over his false claims of election fraud. It was not clear what influence, if any, the uprising had on Wolf’s announcement. The White House had no immediate comment.
Wolf has repeatedly railed against what he said were dangerous, violent left-wing protesters threatening federal buildings, such as the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon. He faced criticism for sending tactical agents onto the streets of American cities who used tear gas against protesters and detained them in unmarked vehicles, and for downplaying the threat of right-wing, white-nationalist, and anti-government domestic extremism that intelligence officials in recent years have identified as a top concern.
Last week, Wolf asked Trump and all elected officials to “strongly condemn the violence” that took place at the Capitol. Five people died, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
Wolf said he has condemned violence on both sides of the political aisle, specifically directed at law enforcement. He tweeted “we now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends” and called that unacceptable.
Shortly after his criticism, the White House announced it had withdrawn Wolf’s nomination to lead the Homeland Security Department, throwing the government’s third-largest department, charged with protecting against domestic threats, into even more turmoil at a moment of unprecedented national insecurity.
“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 which undoubtedly will be full of challenges and opportunities to show 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 acting head of the Department of Homeland Security until the Biden administration takes over.
Biden has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, a former senior DHS official, to lead an agency that carried out Trump administration priorities on immigration and law enforcement and was criticized for becoming politicized as a result.
The president sent Wolf’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation after the Government Accountability Office determined that neither Wolf nor his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were legally eligible to run DHS because of a violation of the rules of succession in federal agencies. That finding has put policy changes under their tenure, especially related to immigration, in potential jeopardy because of legal challenges.
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