WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Top national security aides and other staffers have resigned from President Donald Trump’s administration over the storming of Capitol Hill by his supporters, and officials said on Thursday more departures are expected soon.
Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a leading figure in the development of Trump’s China policy, resigned on Wednesday in response to the incident, a senior administration official told Reuters.
That was followed by Ryan Tully, the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, another senior official said on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s pledge on Thursday about an “orderly transition” to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20 was partly intended to head off further resignations, but the second official told Reuters: “It’s not going to stop it.”
With under two weeks left of Trump’s presidency, many aides were already heading for the door but the sudden departures underscored the revulsion among Trump staffers over what was widely seen as his encouragement of mobs of supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent formal certification of Biden’s Nov. 3 election victory.
Congress did so early on Thursday.
The shocking images at the Capitol filled television screens in the United States and around the world, a deep stain on Trump’s presidency and legacy as his tenure nears its end.
Among those who were spurred to quit on Thursday was Mick Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff who resigned his post 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.
Further departures are especially likely at the NSC, one of the officials said. It coordinates U.S. foreign policy among federal agencies and maintains close contacts with foreign governments, so the loss of key staffers could raise questions about national security amid a presidential transition.
The assault on the U.S. Capitol drew condemnation from U.S. friends and foes alike, with many blaming Trump for inciting his supporters and not doing enough to rein them in.
WATCHING FOR FOREIGN THREATS
Pottinger’s boss, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, has no plans to quit, the first official said.
“A strong national security team remains in place at the State Department, the Department of Defense, Treasury, the intelligence community and the National Security Council, the official said.
The official said the team has been making sure there are no foreign threats to the United States prior to Biden’s inauguration. Trump’s team has been coordinating with the Biden transition team for several weeks.
The White House had no immediate comment. O’Brien had asked Pottinger to stay on past election day to facilitate the transition to Biden’s new team, the official said.
An administration official described Trump as “increasingly isolated” and 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.”
Four people died during Wednesday’s chaos in Washington: one from gunshot wounds and three from medical emergencies.
First lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham, also resigned on Wednesday.
“It has been an honor to serve the country in the White House. I am very proud to have been a part of Mrs. Trump’s mission to help children everywhere, and proud of the many accomplishments of this administration,” Grisham said in a statement.
Grisham did not say whether her resignation was in reaction to the violence, but a source familiar with her decision said it was the last straw.
The White House social secretary, Rickie Niceta, also resigned, as did a deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews, two sources told Reuters.
Pottinger, a former Reuters and Wall Street Journal reporter who left journalism to join the U.S. Marines after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, had served in the White House since the beginning of Trump’s presidency in 2017.
The departure of the fluent Mandarin speaker comes at a time of high tension with Beijing.
Trump’s administration has pursued hardline policies towards China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus and relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when the president ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful re-election campaign.
U.S. lawmakers called the action by Trump’s supporters an embarrassment to American democracy that would play into the hands of rivals like China.
“I think they’re high-fiving in Beijing,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a China hawk, told Tucker Carlson on the Fox News channel. “It kind of bolsters their claim that we’re falling apart and they’re the country of the future.”
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