Chad Wolf will resign from his position as acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, leaving the Trump administration nine days ahead of the president’s departure from office, a senior DHS official told the Washington Examiner on Monday.
Wolf, 44, will leave the department at 11:59 p.m. and will be replaced by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor, according to an internal letter he sent employees Monday evening. Wolf was the fifth person to lead the DHS under the Trump administration and was in his position for 14 months.
“I am saddened to take this step, as it was my intention to serve the Department until the end of this Administration,” Wolf wrote. “Unfortunately, this action is warranted by recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority as Acting Secretary. 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.”
President Trump nominated Wolf to head the 250,000-person department in August, but the Senate never voted to confirm him. Wolf became acting secretary in November 2019, following the departure of acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan. The nomination was pulled shortly after Wolf criticized Trump’s response to the riot at the U.S. Capitol, although the White House said the timing was coincidental.
Two other members of Trump’s Cabinet, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, resigned last week, citing the siege of Congress, which led to the death of five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
He first came to DHS in the early 2000s and worked at the department as it planned the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He moved to the TSA and later to a public policy lobbying firm in Washington before rejoining the TSA as chief of staff in 2017. Wolf shifted to DHS headquarters under Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who had worked with Wolf at the TSA. Nielsen was DHS secretary prior to McAleenan and was chief of staff to Trump’s first DHS secretary, John Kelly.
Before he was shifted to acting secretary last year, Wolf was confirmed by the Senate as undersecretary for the DHS Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans. Wolf’s tenure at DHS was short but included a number of achievements for the Trump administration, as well as lawsuits waged by liberal organizations.
As acting secretary, Wolf supported Trump’s views on national security issues, and his actions followed those priorities, including blocking goods manufactured by Chinese companies that relied on imprisoned Uighur Muslims. He sent federal agents from border and immigration agencies to Portland over the summer to supplement Federal Protective Service officers tasked with defending federal buildings that were being attacked nightly. He increasingly directed agencies to focus on thwarting human trafficking and identifying and seizing counterfeit imports, and he oversaw the suspension of nonessential travel at the Canadian and Mexican borders starting in March.
“We have strengthened border security, reformed our immigration system, stood up a world class cybersecurity agency, increased the worldwide aviation security baseline, enhanced US Coast Guard readiness, countered malign nation-state influence, responded to countless natural disasters, highlighted the vital work of the Federal Protective Service, supported the security of multiple federal and state elections, and continue to respond to a global pandemic,” Wolf wrote in his letter to staff.
More new border wall installed during this administration was erected with Wolf in office than any of his four predecessors, largely because it took several years to acquire funding and land, then plan and contract out each project. Less than 100 miles of tall, steel fence were installed in January 2020, compared to 450 miles as of early January.
In November, Wolf was dragged into a fight between Trump and the country’s top appointee over election security, Chris Krebs. Trump reportedly told Wolf to fire the top U.S. election security official, but he did not, in part, because a department secretary does not have the authority to fire someone who has been confirmed by the Senate, as Krebs was. Wolf remained silent in the weeks after the election, during which Trump alleged election fraud. Even as lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to certify and contest election results, Wolf remained silent about the validity of the election.
He broke with the Trump administration when he said that white supremacists are the greatest threat to homeland security.
Wolf’s appointment to acting secretary was dubbed illegitimate by left-leaning organizations. Then in November, a federal judge ruled that Wolf was illegally serving atop DHS and that a rule he advanced this summer to suspend the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was invalid.
In August, the Government Accountability Office released a report that concluded Wolf was not the next person in line to have taken over when McAleenan left. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, acting secretaries can only stand in the position for 210 days. McAleenan stepped down just before reaching the threshold.
However, Wolf was not the next person in line, according to the 2016 succession list. Nielsen secretly changed the succession order before leaving in April to allow Wolf, seen as a Trump loyalist, to take over for McAleenan.
Wolf maintained that the GAO’s claim that DHS violated the federal law was “fundamentally erroneous.” GAO refused to amend its conclusion, but no action from the DHS inspector general followed.