WASHINGTON: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is stepping down from his post, days after criticising President Donald Trump over the riot at the US Capitol.
Wolf, whose department is in charge of security for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan 20, will step down at midnight, according to a letter he sent to DHS staff.
The announcement makes him the third person to resign from Donald Trump's Cabinet after the attack by the president's supporters on the US Capitol last week.
Wolf said he had intended to stay in the post until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
But 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.
The departure of Wolf - long a close ally of Trump - 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.
"While I have consistently condemned political violence on both sides of the aisle, specifically violence directed at law enforcement, we now see some supporters of the president using violence as a means to achieve political ends," he said.
The White House had no immediate comment.
In September, a DHS official alleged in a whistleblower's complaint that he was pressured by more senior officials in the department to suppress facts in intelligence reports that Trump might find objectionable, including information about Russian interference in the election and the rising threat posed by white supremacists.
Wolf and the department denied the allegations. The acting secretary defended his tenure in his statement to employees, saying DHS had strengthened border security and successfully launched the cybersecurity agency that helped safeguard 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 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 criticised for becoming politicised as a result.
Trump appointed Wolf acting secretary in November 2019, following the resignation of Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary who took over following the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Wolf had been a chief of staff to Nielsen and an undersecretary in the agency as well as an official at the Transportation Security Administration, a component of DHS. He has also worked as a lobbyist.
Trump had said he liked the “flexibility” of having senior officials in an acting status despite criticism that it keeps people from long-term planning that would give an agency more stability.
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.