Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf announced his resignation on Monday, joining a long line of Trump administration officials who have resigned since the President's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week.
Wolf, who has held this position since November 2019 and will become the public face of President Donald Trump's immigration policy, had planned to stay in his post until President-elect Joe Biden was inaugurated on January 20. He had overseen the security measures for the inauguration and announced on Monday that he would extend the deadline for "national special security incidents," a designation that facilitates collaboration between federal law enforcement agencies to respond to terrorist or other criminal threats.
However, he reportedly told agency staff later Monday that ongoing legal challenges to his appointment had prevented him from moving on.
Pete Gaynor, the current Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, will succeed Wolf.
"Unfortunately, recent events justify this move, including ongoing and unfounded court rulings regarding the validity of my powers as acting secretary," he told the New York Times agency. "These events and concerns are increasingly being used to divert attention and resources from the critical work of the department at this critical time in a change of power."
Other Trump administration officials who recently resigned since last week's Capitol insurrection include Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, Trump's Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney and the Chief of Staff of the First Lady Stephanie Grisham.
Though Wolf has flown for the president in the media and has reportedly become his favorite homeland security secretary, Wolf had publicly urged Trump to sharply condemn last week's violence.
"This is unacceptable. These violent acts are incomprehensible and I implore the president and all elected officials to condemn the violence strongly," he said in a statement on Thursday. "Any appearance of inciting violence by an elected official contradicts this Who we are as Americans. Every American is guaranteed the right to peaceful protest, but as soon as these protests become violent we should enforce our laws and bring those responsible to justice – regardless of political motivation. "
However, his resignation did not appear to be directly related to what had happened over the past week. Rather, he cited several court rulings according to which he was unlawfully appointed to his position. The judges found that Trump had bypassed the Senate confirmatory process to install him in violation of federal law on job reform. Trump had tried to fix the problems with Wolf's appointment by officially nominating him for the position, but abruptly withdrew the nomination from the Senate last Thursday.
With Wolf continuing to serve in his position without legal authority, his legacy has been called into question. A court has already invalidated his memo, which suspended new applications for the Deferred Action on the Arrival of Children program due to his unlawful appointment.
There's no telling whether further legal challenges could invalidate other DHS policies promulgated under Wolf's watch – or whether the incoming Biden government could argue that Wolf's appointment was unlawful in order not to enforce the agency's disapproved policies.
Wolf became Trump's mouthpiece on the border
Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, spearheaded Trump's law and order news that summer and were staunch defenders of the president's restrictive immigration policies.
Wolf led the crackdown on protests against Black Lives Matter in Portland, Oregon, and dispatched federal agents from the immigration and customs authorities, as well as the Customs and Border Protection, to protect destroyed federal buildings. The agents later criticized the escalation of tensions by using tear gas on crowds and arresting protesters in unmarked vehicles.
In the final weeks leading up to the presidential election, he and Cuccinelli toured several battlefield states – Pennsylvania, Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas – and held at least five press conferences to introduce Trump's immigration policies. Some of the press conferences were about routine enforcement actions, which are usually published with a simple press release.
Wolf made the border wall a mainstay in the agency's public news. After battling to complete the border wall in the months leading up to the election, he was keen to claim that Trump kept his election promise. (About 500 miles of the wall was completed, but Mexico never paid for it – rather, taxpayers fell with a $ 15 billion burden and were largely taken over from the Pentagon budget.)
Wolf traveled to the border on October 29 to announce construction progress and made it clear what he believed was at stake in the presidential election. He said Biden's policies would spur migration across the border and pose a threat to national security.
"Let me be clear, any of these actions would endanger the lives of the border patrol and Americans across the country," he said.
He also tweeted a video addressing journalists who cast doubts as to whether Trump would complete the border wall and whether it would even serve its intended purpose of "securing the border." It's not clear if the video was produced by the Department of Homeland Security, but it might as well be a campaign ad:
They said it couldn't be done …
They tried to block it
They tried to turn it
They tried to hide the truth
You were wrong. 400 times and count. pic.twitter.com/MWWP4cgoPi
– Deputy Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) October 29, 2020
David Lapan, a former spokesman for DHS, called it an "abuse of (government) resources" and "a clear election campaign".
The announcement of Wolf's resignation comes just before Trump's planned trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday, where he is expected to re-announce his immigration legacy.
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