US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has announced her resignation, the first Cabinet member to join a list of members of President Donald Trump’s administration who are leaving in protest at the storming of the US Capitol by his supporters.
Chao, the wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Thursday said the mob attack “has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.” She said her resignation will take effect on Monday.
With less than two weeks left of Trump’s presidency, many aides were already heading for the door, but the sudden departures suggested revulsion among some over his encouragement of mobs of supporters who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday in an ultimately futile bid to prevent formal certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a leading figure in the development of Trump’s China policy, quit abruptly on Wednesday, said a senior administration official.
He was followed by Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, said a second senior official.
Republican Trump’s pledge on Thursday that there would be an “orderly transition” to the presidency of Democrat Joe Biden on January 20 was partly intended to head off further resignations, but the second official told Reuters: “It’s not going to stop it.”
The images filled television screens in the United States and around the world, forever marking Trump’s presidency.
Chao, a labour secretary and deputy transportation secretary under previous Republican presidents, has led the department for four years. In an interview with Reuters on December 31, Chao had said she planned to remain on the job through January 20.
On Thursday, she was at pains to say that “we will help my announced successor, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with taking on the responsibility of running this wonderful department”.
Among those spurred to quit was Mick Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff who resigned as a special envoy to Northern Ireland.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of my friends resign over the course of the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said on CNBC.
John Costello, deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, announced his departure in a blistering tweet, writing, “yesterday’s events were an unprecedented attack on the very core of our democracy – incited by a sitting president”.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Trump has increasingly isolated himself in the White House, relying on a small group of diehard loyalists and lashing out at those who dare to cross him, including Vice President Mike Pence.
An administration official said that “national security officials who are loyal to their oath to the constitution will be standing watch until Inauguration Day and will then turn over power to the duly elected new president”.
There has been no indication that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a close Trump ally, plans to resign. But he put daylight between himself and Trump by condemning the mob that overran the Capitol as “criminals”.
Trump’s top cabinet secretaries – Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen – are not expected to quit, but other lower-profile cabinet members could still leave, according to a person familiar with the matter.
First lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, also resigned on Wednesday. Two sources told Reuters that White House social secretary Rickie Niceta also quit, as did Sarah Matthews, a deputy White House press secretary.