Growing Number of Trump Officials Resign Following Insurrection at Capitol

Wednesday’s assault was not the first time the president has incited violence, but for several administration officials, it was a step too far.

U.S. President Donald Trump watches as former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao speaks at the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan. 9, 2020.
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao speaks at the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan. 9, 2020.

The clock is ticking on U.S. President Donald Trump’s time in office, with just under two weeks left until he departs. But some officials are bowing out early after Wednesday’s insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, a Trump-instigated assault carried out by a mob of his supporters who continue to dispute the results of the election.

The president’s friendliness toward violent supporters is nothing new. In 2017, he infamously branded white supremacists and neo-Nazis at the Unite the Right rally Charlottesville, Virginia, as “very fine people.” On Wednesday, he likewise referred to the Capitol’s ransackers as “very special” people.

But for some Trump administration officials who stomached Charlottesville and more, Wednesday’s siege was apparently the breaking point. In their resignations, most have invoked the necessity of a peaceful transfer of power, rather than any particular aversion to extremist tactics or Trump’s fitness for office. In fact, at least one State Department official—Gabriel Noronha—was fired Thursday for tweeting that “President Trump fomented an insurrectionist mob that attacked the Capitol” and is “entirely unfit to remain in office, and needs to go.”

Here is a growing list of now-former Trump officials who saw the insurrection as the final straw in a chaotic and controversial four-year tenure.

Elaine Chao, secretary of transportation

Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, became the first member of Trump’s cabinet to resign in response to Wednesday’s events, specifically citing Trump’s role in addressing his supporters in Washington.

Chao’s departure could be followed by other cabinet members, and it came just after a call from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for the cabinet and outgoing Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office in advance of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Speculation was building ahead of the resignation: Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who himself condemned the violence at the Capitol as a “failed insurrection” on the Senate floor on Wednesday night.

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education

Late Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned in a letter sent to Trump—becoming the second cabinet member to step down after Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao submitted her resignation earlier in the day.

DeVos’s departure followed a sternly worded tweet Wednesday, in which she warned that “the eyes of America’s children and students—the rising generation who will inherit the republic we leave them—are watching what is unfolding in Washington today.” DeVos urged her colleagues to “set a better example for them” and commit to a peaceful transition of power. 

Mick Mulvaney, special envoy to Northern Ireland and former White House chief of staff

Mick Mulvaney, who served as Trump’s chief of staff from January 2019 until March 2020, when he assumed a diplomatic posting as special envoy to Northern Ireland, resigned Wednesday night in a call to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Mulvaney’s resignation followed a slew of tweets on Wednesday in which he called for Trump to “discourage any violence immediately” and “be presidential.” When Trump released a video message—later deleted by Twitter, which shut down the president’s account for 12 hours due to its dangerous and false claims about the election—Mulvaney fired back that “the president’s tweet is not enough” and reiterated the importance of a peaceful transition of power.

Matt Pottinger, deputy 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 in the wake of the violence at the Capitol. First as Asia director and later deputy national security advisor, Pottinger was an influential and hawkish behind-the-scenes figure in the White House, playing a leading role in shaping Trump’s China policy.

Pottinger has not commented on his departure, but it comes amid speculation that other NSC officials including his boss, national security advisor Robert O’Brien, are also considering resignation. O’Brien, who has been especially loyal to Trump, reportedly returned to Washington from Florida on Wednesday night, with the capital still under curfew.

Mark Vandroff, senior director for defense policy at the National Security Council

Mark Vandroff resigned from his spot on the NSC after Pottinger, a departure first reported by Defense News. Vandroff did not provide a reason for his decision.

Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council

Ryan Tully was the second NSC official to resign, as first reported by Bloomberg on Thursday. Tully served as a deputy assistant to the president and the senior director for European and Russian affairs—making him Trump’s top Russia advisor, a high-turnover role he assumed last July.

Tyler Goodspeed, acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers

Tyler Goodspeed, one of Trump’s top economic advisors, also resigned on Thursday. He had served as the acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers since June 2020 after two abrupt resignations.

John Costello, deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and security at the U.S. Department of Commerce

John Costello resigned on Thursday morning, tweeting that Trump had “long disregarded and diminished the rule of law and the constitution.”

Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff to first lady Melania Trump and former White House press secretary

Stephanie Grisham, First Lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff, resigned from her position on Wednesday afternoon. She did not provide an immediate reason for her departure, though it is assumed to be a response to Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol.

Sarah Matthews, deputy White House press secretary

Sarah Matthews was selected to serve as White House deputy press secretary by press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in June 2020. She resigned from her post Jan. 7 following the rioting on Capitol Hill.

Anna Cristina Niceta, White House social secretary

Anna Cristina Niceta, the White House social secretary, resigned from her post Wednesday.

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This article is periodically updated to include new resignations.

Allison Meakem is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @allisonmeakem

Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

Cailey Griffin is an intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @keenstoryteller


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