A steady stream of Trump administration officials is paving an early path to the exits as a protest against the deadly siege of the US Capitol this week, although others are grappling with the stay-or-go issue concluding that they owe it to the public to see things in the end.
Some of Trump’s critics do not give them early credit caucus much for leaving their jobs with less than two weeks left in the administration, and see it as little more than a face-saving effort.
“No one is fooled by these last-minute conversations that come to Jesus,” said Rick Wilson, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans critical of Trump.
Trump’s education and transportation secretary, his acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy national security adviser are among at least nine senior administration officials who have announced their resignation since Wednesday’s attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol.
Serving under Trump has been a test for many aides who have followed some of the president’s most provocative actions, including his embrace of authority, his habit of grossly disparaging political opponents, and the ease and frequency with which he used falsehoods for personal gain.
But Trump’s behavior in a few scary hours on Wednesday – first by urging his supporters to demand that Congress undermine the election and later refuse to condemn today’s violence – was a line too far for several high-profile officials serving the president.
It was not until Thursday night, more than 24 hours after the Capitol siege, that Trump in a video message condemned the rioters’ actions as “disgusting” and acknowledged his election loss.
‘A lot of soul searching’
Several White House officials and bureaucrats still at work on Thursday said they were deeply opposed to resigning, fearing what would happen if Trump was left surrounded during his last days at work only by those who encouraged his inferior instincts. In at least one case, a person at the Biden crossing requested that individuals remain at work to facilitate the handover.
Deciding whether to stay or gous plays out in a moment when assistants already have moving boxes ready and an eye on the door despite Trump’s insistence over the past two months that the election results should be chosen and he would serve a second semester. Trump only acknowledged in a statement on Thursday that his presidency will end on January 20.
On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao became the highest-ranking officials to resign because of the Trump uprising. In a statement, Chao, who is married to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said that the violent attack on the Capitol “has deeply disturbed me in a way that I simply cannot dismiss.”
DeVos, in his farewell letter, blamed the president for encouraging the mob. “It is impossible to suspect what effect your rhetoric had on the situation, and that is the turning point for me,” she wrote.
Mick Mulvaney, the US special envoy for Northern Ireland and a former White House chief of staff, said there was a lot of “soul searching” in the White House when he announced his own resignation from the administration.
“A lot of people are wondering if I’m leaving today, who’s going to take my place and will it make it better or will it make it worse,” Mulvaney said in a CNBC interview.
Lawmakers on both sides at the time said they hoped Trump would be surrounded by skilled advisers in the last days of his term.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, on Thursday called on “the good men and women who honor service at all levels of the federal government to please their service to protect our democracy.”
“The actions of a rogue president will not reflect on you,” Manchin said. “Instead, your patriotism and your commitment to the good of our country will be reaffirmed.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked that they remain in their positions in the national security apparatus. “We need you now more than ever,” Graham said. He added: “To those who think you should leave your post now to make a statement, I would urge you not to do so.”
The two top Democrats in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, had a different strategy in mind. They said they would proceed with an indictment if Vice President Mike Pence and the government failed to invoke the 25th Amendment to try to remove Trump from office early.
Neither the accusation nor the expulsion during the 25th Amendment was considered likely with less than two weeks left in Trump’s presidency.
A government official, acting Interior Minister Chad Wolf, made it clear that he was digging until the end “to ensure that the administration’s focus remains on the serious threats facing our country and an orderly transition to President Biden’s DHS team.”
Still, many White House assistants, both senior officials and lower-level staff, struggled if or when to leave, according to two people familiar with internal White House deliberations. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
One of the individuals said that many who have already left or are still considering leaving are aware that their actions will be seen as a cynical attempt to differentiate themselves from Trump as they look to their own future. The other, a senior administrative official who has decided to stay, said people have considered leaving, but felt a responsibility to continue working to ensure a smooth transition.
The Lincoln project’s Wilson said a last – minute dismissal of Trump will not help outgoing officials lose the pain of their accession to the presidency.
“They will all have their historical revisionism, they will all have their own imaginary heroism,” Wilson said. “But America will know who these people are.”