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Homeland Security’s Acting Leader Exits At Critical Moment

Chad Wolf, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) acting secretary, has resigned from his post. The move comes as federal law enforcement braces for possible armed attacks next week by President Trump supporters at the capitals of all 50 states and president-elect Joseph Biden’s inauguration ceremonies on January 20, 2021.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator (FEMA) Pete Gaynor takes the helm as acting DHS secretary until Biden is inaugurated. Gaynor assumes the role following an attack by insurgents who stormed the Capitol building on January 6 in what authorities and legislators have called an attempted political coup and an assault on democracy. Wolf had reportedly vowed to stay in office until Biden’s inauguration, a pledge Gaynor now has promised to fulfill.

DHS and U.S. Cybersecurity

Much of the nation’s security structure, including the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA), revolves around the DHS, which is the third largest federal department. It’s unclear how Wolf’s resignation will affect CISA’s operations. With the country at a critical crossroads, Wolf’s exit leaves DHS, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Defense (DOD) all run by acting heads.

“I am saddened to take this step, as it was my intention to serve the Department until the end of this Administration,” Wolf wrote in a letter obtained by news outlets in which he tendered his resignation. According to reports, Wolf curiously pointed to ongoing litigation that surfaced months ago questioning the legality of his appointment and that of his deputy Ken Cuccinelli as the reason for his departure. Because the appointments of Wolf and previous acting secretary Kevin McAleenan were not authorized by federal statutes and neither was approved by a Senate vote, they were deemed unconstitutional and illegal as was Cuccinelli’s. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found the appointments of Wolf and Cuccinelli were invalid.

“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 said. “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.”

U.S. Federal Government: Multiple Exits

Wolf is the third member of Trump’s Cabinet to resign, following education secretary Betsy DeVos and transportation secretary Elaine Chao out the Cabinet door. Both DeVos and Chao quit in protest of the Capitol building attack but Wolf made no mention of it in his resignation letter, reports said.

That Wolf’s departure comes just days ahead of the end of his 14-month tenure reportedly left some Congressional members uncertain of his motives. House Homeland Security chairman Bennie Thompson questioned the timing of Wolf’s resignation. “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.

Ahead of Biden’s inauguration, Wolf directed the U.S. Secret Service to begin operations on January 19 to secure government facilities from expected uprisings. In a statement following the attack on the Capitol, Wolf said he had “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. This is unacceptable.”

Wolf’s short stint was not without controversy. He played a key role in the Trump administration’s family separation policy in 2018, and was a force in the deployment of federal law enforcement forces to quell social justice protests in Portland, Oregon and other cities.

In September 2020, Wolf was said to have ordered his staff to stop reporting cyber threats from Russia. Trump, meanwhile, has said little about alleged Russia-led cyberattacks that targeted SolarWinds and the IT management software company’s customer base. Multiple federal government officials have largely blamed Russia for the SolarWinds-related attacks, but Trump has instead speculated about China potentially being involved.

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