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Acting head of Homeland Security resigning; Peters says departure will 'create even more chaos'

Chris Strohm
Bloomberg News

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf abruptly announced he’s resigning, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the government’s preparedness for potential armed protests in the days leading up to next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Wolf said he’s resigning on Monday after “recent events,” including court rulings saying he wasn’t lawfully appointed to the post.

“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,” Wolf said in a statement to department employees.

Wolf said he’ll be replaced in an acting capacity by Pete Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf

Sen. Gary Peters, incoming chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said Wolf's departure "will create even more chaos at a vital national security agency that has already been damaged by mismanagement and instability in its leadership.

"Leaving now, when there are very real threats of further violence across the country, will only make it harder for the dedicated employees at the Department of Homeland Security to do the hard work of securing our nation from a number of serious threats, including events around the upcoming inauguration."

Peters said he is "extremely concerned" about security threats leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration and "will be keeping a close eye on the Department’s response to those threats.”

Wolf was installed as acting secretary by President Donald Trump in late 2019.

But after the deadly riots at the Capitol last week, Wolf called on “the president and all elected officials to strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday.” At the time, he said he wouldn’t step down before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Wolf’s sudden departure adds to the confusion surrounding federal and state security preparations for the inauguration, with the FBI warning about plans for armed protests at state capitals beginning on Jan. 16 and in Washington, D.C., starting on Jan. 17.

The Homeland Security Department plays a critical role in securing the actual inauguration and assisting state and local officials during times of crisis.

At least five federal judges have ruled that Wolf lacked authorities as acting secretary of the department because his nomination in November 2019 was never confirmed by the Senate.

In one of his last acts, Wolf directed the Secret Service, which is part of the department, to start security operations for the inauguration six days early, on Wednesday instead of Jan. 19.

Wolf said in that statement that he was starting preparations early “in light of events of the past week and the evolving security landscape,” and at the recommendation of Secret Service Director James Murray.

Detroit News Washington correspondent Melissa Nann Burke contributed.