Report

State Department Departures Pave Way for Trump’s Immigration Limits

The exodus of officials includes the head of Consular Affairs

A view of the US Department of State is seen July 31,2014, where President Obama will host African Leaders August 4-6,2014 in Washington, DC for the US-Africa Leaders Summit.  This historic summit, the first of its kind, will bring leaders from across the African continent to the nation's capital and further strengthen ties with one of the world's most dynamic and fastest-growing regions.  The theme of the Summit is investing in the next generation. Building on the progress made since President Obamas trip to Africa last summer, the Summit will advance the focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight Americas commitment to Africas security, its democratic development, and elevate the ideas of young people..      AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards        (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the US Department of State is seen July 31,2014, where President Obama will host African Leaders August 4-6,2014 in Washington, DC for the US-Africa Leaders Summit. This historic summit, the first of its kind, will bring leaders from across the African continent to the nation's capital and further strengthen ties with one of the world's most dynamic and fastest-growing regions. The theme of the Summit is investing in the next generation. Building on the progress made since President Obamas trip to Africa last summer, the Summit will advance the focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight Americas commitment to Africas security, its democratic development, and elevate the ideas of young people.. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House abruptly asked several senior State Department officials to leave this week, including a key official who would’ve been in charge of implementing President Donald Trump’s plans to curtail refugees from Muslim-majority countries.

Contrary to a report that the departures amounted to a “mass exodus” of officials “who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era,” the officials received letters from the White House that their service was no longer needed.

“Characterizing these as protest resignations is totally inaccurate,” said a State Department official.

The departures include Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary for management; Tom Countryman, the acting under secretary for arms control; Michele Bond and Joyce Anne Barr, assistant secretaries for consular affairs and administration; and Gentry Smith, director of the Office for Foreign Missions. Other assistant secretaries and senior diplomats were also asked to leave. 

Kennedy’s departure was widely expected, given his role in overseeing diplomatic security during the 2012 attacks in Benghazi and the IT department during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “emailgate” — two key controversies that Trump hit on repeatedly during the 2016 presidential campaign.

However, the abruptness of Bond’s dismissal surprised current and former State Department officials, who said it may be linked to Trump’s goal of limiting the influx of people from Muslim-majority countries into the United States.

“Michele Bond is a person of tremendous character,” said a former career State Department official. “She follows the law, and that can cause headaches for a president trying to limit the travel of Muslims.”

In explaining the departures, State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner said it’s not unusual for political appointees, even career diplomats, to move on during a government transition. “No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited,” he said.

Still, two rank-and-file career officials told Foreign Policy that these appointees are usually given more advance notice, and stressed that the department is now significantly short-handed when it comes to management experience. That is especially important given the lack of government experience of Trump’s secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson.

“Pretty much all of the top management is now gone,” said one diplomat.

The American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents American diplomats, downplayed the amount of brain drain at the department and said a fresh roster of talent is waiting in the wings.

“While this appears to be a large turnover in a short period of time, a change of administration always brings personnel changes, and there is nothing unusual about rotations or retirements in the Foreign Service,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.

The group’s president, Barbara Stephenson, said, she has no doubt that “the next generation of  leaders is eager to step up and serve, ensuring the continuity of this great institution.”

Before leading the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Bond served as a foreign service officer for 40 years. In a letter addressed to colleagues, she said “I cannot adequately express how proud I am of our Bureau’s profound, positive impact on U.S. diplomacy.”

Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

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