The clock is ticking on the term of office of US President Donald Trump, just under two weeks before his departure. But some officials bow early after yesterday’s US Capitol uprising, a Trump-led attack by a crowd of his supporters who continue to contest the election results.
The president’s friendliness towards violent supporters is nothing new. In 2017, he branded white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “very good people” at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Wednesday, he also described the Capitol looters as “very special” people.
But for some Trump administration officials who had to stomach Charlottesville and more, Wednesday’s siege appeared to be the breaking point. In their resignation, most of them pleaded the need for a peaceful transfer of power rather than a particular aversion to extremist tactics.
Here is a growing list of former Trump officials who viewed the insurrection as the final straw in a chaotic and controversial four-year term.
Elaine Chao, transportation secretary
Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation, became the first member of Trump’s cabinet to step down in response to events on Wednesday, specifically referring to Trump’s role in addressing his supporters in Washington.
Chaos exit could be pursued by other cabinet members, and this came immediately after a call by Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer to the cabinet and outgoing Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment to bring Trump before President-elect Joe Remove Biden from office inauguration on January 20th. Before the resignation, there was speculation: Chao is married to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who himself condemned the violence in the Capitol as a “failed uprising” in the Senate on Wednesday evening.
“Yesterday our country had a traumatic and totally avoidable event when supporters of the president stormed the Capitol after a rally he spoke to,” Chao wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “I’m sure it has made me deeply concerned about many of you that I just can’t put it aside.”
Some Democrats have labeled Chaos resignation – and others that might follow – as little more than an attempt at self-preservation. “If Sec. Chao is so contradicting yesterday’s events that she should work in the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment – without giving up the seat that allows her to do so, ”tweeted MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday.
Chao joined the Trump administration shortly after taking office in January 2017 and is an experienced cabinet member: She was Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. Under the Biden administration she is replaced by the former Democratic presidency candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg.
Mick Mulvaney, Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and former White House Chief of Staff
Mick Mulvaney, who served as Trump’s chief of staff from January 2019 to March 2020 when he took on diplomatic missions as special envoy for Northern Ireland, stepped down on a call to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday night.
Mulvaney’s resignation followed a series of tweets on Wednesday calling on Trump to “stop violence immediately” and “be president”. When Trump posted a video message that was later deleted from Twitter that closed the president’s account for 12 hours because of his dangerous and false claims about the election, Mulvaney replied that “the president’s tweet is not enough” and reiterated the meaning of a peaceful change of power.
“I can’t do it, I can’t stay,” Mulvaney said Thursday morning in an interview with CNBC. “We didn’t sign up for what you saw last night. We signed up to make America great again,” he said of Trump administration officials. But Mulvaney also suggested that other officials, dismayed by yesterday’s events, choose to stay in their posts until January 20, fearing the president will appoint more submissive successors in the meantime.
Mulvaney is one of many Republicans who called Trump dangerous – and called him a “terrible person” – throughout the 2016 GOP primary – but fully agreed immediately after he took office. Mulvaney played a major role in the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment in December 2019, and he helped Trump downplay the coronavirus pandemic in its early days.
Matt Pottinger, assistant national security advisor
Matt Pottinger, a former journalist and U.S. Marine who served on the National Security Council since January 2017, resigned late Wednesday after the violence in the Capitol. First as Asia Director and later as Deputy National Security Advisor, Pottinger was an influential and Hawkish figure behind the scenes at the White House who played a leading role in shaping Trump’s China policy.
In May 2020, Pottinger caught attention by delivering a Mandarin speech criticizing the Chinese government’s crackdown on freedom of speech amid the coronavirus pandemic as rhetoric intensified between Beijing and Washington. Last September, he defended the administrative policy to revoke the US visas of more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers, calling it a “surgical approach” to security risks. Pottinger was also voiced condemning China’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including remarks in Mandarin.
Pottinger has not commented on his departure, but speculation arises that other NSC officials, including his boss, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, are also considering resigning. O’Brien, who has been particularly loyal to Trump, reportedly returned to Washington from Florida Wednesday night with the capital still under curfew.
“Matt Pottinger has served the nation and the administration with honors for the past four years. His work led [sic] to a great awakening in our country and around the world to the danger posed by the Chinese Communist Party, “O’Brien tweeted Thursday. “Asking Matt Pottinger to act as my deputy was my first time as an NSA, and it turned out to be one of my best decisions.”
Mark Vandroff, Senior Director of Defense Policy on the National Security Council
Mark Vandroff stepped down from his place at NSC after Pottinger, a departure first reported by Defense News. Vandroff gave no reason for his decision.
“It was a great pleasure to work with them [U.S. national security advisor Robert O’Brien] to the NSC staff to implement the President’s policies and work to make America and the world safer and safer, ”Vandroff wrote in a statement to O’Brien.
Vandroff, who joined the NSC in March 2020, is a retired Navy captain. He was involved in the negotiation of the Abraham Agreement, the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which now also includes Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Vandroff also urged Washington to expand the US fleet as part of a burgeoning arms race with China.
Ryan Tully, Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council
Ryan Tully was the second NSC official to step down, Bloomberg first reported Thursday. Tully was the President’s Assistant Assistant and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs. That made him Trump’s best advisor to Russia, a high-revenue role he took on last July. Tully became the fifth person to hold the position with the NSC in three and a half years, including Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison, both of whom testified in Trump’s impeachment investigation.
Tully previously worked at the NSC as a senior arms control advisor and assistant senior director, weapons of mass destruction and biological defense. He contributed to measures such as the export ban of the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and the withdrawal from the Open Skies contract with Russia.
Tyler Goodspeed, Acting Chairman of the White House Economic Advisory Council
Tyler Goodspeed, one of Trump’s top economic advisors, also resigned Thursday. After two sudden resignations, he was acting chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the White House since June 2020 and previously Chief Economist for Macroeconomic Policy and Senior Economist for Macroeconomics of the Council, which advises the President’s economic policy.
In an interview with the New York Times, Goodspeed said: “The events of yesterday no longer made my position tenable.”
John Costello, Assistant Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Security, Department of Commerce
Costello resigned Thursday morning and tweeted that Trump had “disregarded and belittled the rule of law and the constitution for a long time.”
“Yesterday’s events were an unprecedented attack on the very core of our democracy – inspired by a seated president,” he said. “During my tenure, I worked on behalf of the American people to improve cybersecurity and national security. I am sorry to leave this work unfinished, but yesterday’s events leave me no choice. “
Costello’s tenure in the Trump administration was brief: he joined the Commerce Department in June 2020 after working for various cybersecurity organizations.
Stephanie Grisham, Chief of Staff to First Lady Melania Trump and former White House Press Secretary
Stephanie Grisham, Chief of Staff to First Lady Melania Trump, resigned from her position on Wednesday afternoon. She did not provide an immediate reason for her departure, although it is believed to be in response to Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol.
“It has been an honor to serve the country. I am very proud to have been a part of it [Melania Trump’s] Mission, ”Grisham tweeted on Wednesday. She claimed “to be proud of the many achievements of this government”. There was no mention of Trump in her statement.
Grisham joined Team Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, serving as deputy press secretary under former press secretary Sean Spicer. In May 2019, Grisham became Trump’s third press secretary, serving until April 2020 when she joined the first lady’s staff. Grisham did not hold a single television press conference during her entire tenure.
Sarah Matthews, White House Assistant Secretary
Sarah Matthews was selected by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany to be Deputy Press Secretary for the White House in June 2020. She resigned from her post on January 7th after the riot on Capitol Hill.
In a statement made by ABC News, Matthews said, “As someone who worked in the convention halls, I was deeply concerned about what I saw today. I will step down from my role with immediate effect. Our nation needs a peaceful transfer of power. “Matthews previously served as a communications assistant for the US Home Committee on Homeland Security. She was also a contributor to the Trump campaign.
Anna Cristina Niceta, White House Social Secretary
Anna Cristina Niceta, the White House social secretary, resigned from her post on Wednesday. The social secretary occupies a low level in the west wing hierarchy and organizes events such as the annual Easter egg roll, Halloween and official state visits. The White House, which informed CNN of Niceta’s decision, did not provide any reason for her resignation, although it quickly followed Grisham’s.