Chad Wolf abruptly quits, after ordering Secret Service to take over Biden inauguration security

Trump, just as abruptly, pulled Wolf’s nomination to lead DHS after acting secretary condemned the Capitol riot

By Igor Derysh
January 12, 2021 4:05PM (UTC)
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Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee o on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf abruptly resigned on Monday after seemingly falling out with President Trump over the president's role in inciting last week's Capitol riot.

Wolf's departure came hours after he announced that the Secret Service would take over security preparations for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration this Wednesday, six days ahead of the scheduled date, citing the "events of the past week and the evolving security landscape" leading up to the event. Capitol Police officials told lawmakers on Monday they are actively monitoring three active plots to attack members of Congress ahead of Biden's swearing-in, according to HuffPost.

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Wolf's resignation comes after Trump abruptly pulled his nomination to lead DHS on Wednesday. The Trump appointee criticized the president's role in stoking the riot with baseless claims of election rigging, leading his supporters to attack police officers, killing one and injuring dozens of others. Members of the mob, some of whom were said by Capitol Police officers to be "heavily trained," were armed with pipes and clubs and equipped with zip-tie handcuffs, radios, earpieces and flash-bangs as they marauded through the Capitol, apparently hunting for members of Congress and perhaps Vice President Mike Pence.

"We now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends," Wolf said in a statement following the attack. "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" last Wednesday.

In his resignation letter, Wolf also cited recent court decisions finding that he had been illegally installed in his role as a reason for his departure. FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor, who has been heavily involved in the coronavirus pandemic response, will take over as acting secretary until the inauguration, Wolf said. Gaynor is the sixth person to lead the department during Trump's four years in office. A DHS spokesperson told The Washington Post that Wolf would remain at the department in his Senate-confirmed role as undersecretary for strategy, policy, and plans.

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Some lawmakers have called for hearings to question why Wolf and the DHS were unprepared for the violent riot after Trump's supporters openly plotted the insurrection on social media for weeks. Capitol Police did not request assistance from DHS ahead of the assault, according to the Post. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned after he was criticized for failing to prepare for the potential assault, said House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger and Pentagon officials repeatedly denied his requests for assistance after the mob overran police. Irving and Stenger have also resigned. The National Guard did not arrive on the scene until nearly four hours after the mob assaulted dozens of police officers and breached the Capitol.

Wolf's resignation comes amid growing concerns of a potential second attack before Trump leaves office. Wolf ordered the Secret Service, which usually implements inauguration security protocols a day before the swearing-in, to begin their "National Special Security event operations" by Jan. 13.

Capitol Police has also set up razor-wire fencing around the Capitol and around 15,000 National Guard troops from Washington, D.C.. and various nearby states have been deployed in anticipation of a potential attack. The FBI also warned law enforcement agencies in a memo that pro-Trump militants have called for armed protests at all 50 state capitals.

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House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., raised questions about Wolf's abrupt decision to step down nine days before the inauguration. Thompson observed that courts had ruled months earlier that he was serving illegally in his position "so the timing of his resignation … is questionable."

"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," Thompson said in a statement.

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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and numerous other White House and administration officials have resigned since last week's Capitol siege, citing Trump's role in fomenting the unrest.

"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."

Lawmakers have also expressed increasing concern about the role law enforcement officers may have played in the assault. On the same day Wolf announced he would speed up Secret Service preparations, the Washington Post reported that the agency is investigating a Secret Service officer who cheered on the rioters and falsely blamed antifa for attacking police at the Capitol.

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Capitol Police said Monday that two officers had been suspended and more than a dozen others are under investigation for suspected involvement in or support for the riot. A congressional aide told the Post that eight separate investigations have been launched into the actions of Capitol Police on Wednesday. One officer reportedly posted messages in support of the rally that preceded the riot. Another took selfies with the mob after they assaulted dozens of his colleagues and stormed the building. Yet another was seen wearing a Make America Great Again hat as rioters surrounded the Capitol, according to Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio.

Off-duty police officers from Texas, Pennsylvania, Washington state and New Hampshire have also been suspended or placed under investigation for participating in Wednesday's events.

Some Black Capitol Police officers have said that cops from around the country flashed badges to try to gain entry to the Capitol.

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"[One guy] pulled out his badge and he said, 'We're doing this for you,'" one officer told BuzzFeed News. "Another guy had his badge. So I was like, 'Well, you gotta be kidding.'"


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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