National Security

Acting DHS chief Chad Wolf stepping down

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is stepping down from his position, just nine days before President Trump leaves office.

He is the latest Cabinet official to leave the Trump administration following deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol last week. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos both announced plans to step down last week. 

Wolf’s exit comes amid growing concerns about potential security threats surrounding President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Wolf’s resignation will be effective at the end of the day on Monday, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official confirmed to The Hill. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor will step in as acting DHS secretary for the remainder of Trump’s presidency, the official said. 

Wolf has been serving in the position in an acting capacity for more than a year.

Trump nominated him officially for DHS secretary last August, but he was never confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s decision to nominate Wolf to serve in the position permanently came after a government watchdog concluded that he and Ken Cuccinelli, performing the duties of deputy secretary, were not legally qualified to hold the posts. The White House withdrew the nomination last week.

Wolf had pledged in a statement issued following the riots that he would remain in his position until the end of the Trump administration “to ensure the Department’s focus remains on the serious threats facing our country and an orderly transition” to Biden’s team. 

In a letter to DHS colleagues that was obtained by The Hill, Wolf cited ongoing litigation challenging the validity of his position as the reason for his sooner-than-planned departure.

“I am saddened to take this step, as it was my intention to serve the Department until the end of this Administration. Unfortunately, this action is warranted by recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority as Acting Secretary,” Wolf wrote. “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.”

Federal judges in Maryland and New York had ruled in months prior that Wolf was serving illegally in his position.

Wolf touted the department’s work on border security, cybersecurity and other issues in his statement to colleagues. It did not make mention of the pro-Trump mob attack at the U.S. Capitol last week, nor did it mention Trump at all.

“Serving the Department and leading the finest public servants in the federal government has been the honor of a lifetime. I did not seek this responsibility but answered the call to service as each of you have during your careers,” Wolf wrote.

He wrote that he leaves knowing the department “has positioned itself for an orderly and smooth transition” and urged officials to welcome, educate and learn from Biden’s incoming team.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) questioned the timing of Wolf’s departure.

“For months we have known Chad Wolf has been serving illegally in his position, so the timing of his resignation from the Department today is questionable,” Thompson said. “He has chosen to resign during a time of national crisis and when domestic terrorists may be planning additional attacks on our government. Unlike others, he is apparently not leaving the Trump Administration on principle.”

“If it is true he is resigning because of recent Federal court decisions, then it is an admission that his policy decisions are indeed invalid. Under this scenario, Ken Cuccinelli must also resign,” he continued.

Wolf called the riots at the Capitol “unconscionable” and implored Trump to strongly condemn the violence in a statement last Thursday. The White House publicized the withdrawal of his nomination shortly thereafter, though a White House official said that withdrawal occurred the day prior and was independent of his comments or the riots. 

The House on Monday formally introduced an article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting the attack, and lawmakers are poised to vote on it on Wednesday

News of Wolf’s resignation came roughly an hour after he announced that the Secret Service would begin implementing security measures tied to the inauguration on Wednesday, six days earlier than planned. The FBI is said to have warned of the potential for armed protests across the country beginning on Jan. 16. 

The shake-up at DHS is likely to spur concerns about its effect on the department’s ability to address potential threats related to the inauguration.

As the head of DHS, Wolf presided over some of the Trump administration’s most controversial priorities, particularly the president’s aggressive immigration enforcement agenda and rush to build a wall at the southern border. He was considered one of the president’s most loyal Cabinet members.

Wolf is the fifth person to head DHS under Trump, making Gaynor the sixth. The agency went without a confirmed secretary for almost two years; Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned in April 2019, was the last official to be confirmed to serve as DHS secretary in the current administration.

Trump is expected to travel to Alamo, Texas, on Tuesday to tout the completion of more than 400 miles of the wall and his administration’s broader immigration reform agenda. Wolf had accompanied Trump for previous trips when he toured border wall construction.

Updated at 6:32 p.m.

Tags Bennie Thompson Betsy DeVos Chad Wolf Donald Trump Elaine Chao Joe Biden Kirstjen Nielsen

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