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Trump bears some responsibility for Capitol riot, ex-DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf says

Chad Wolf, who resigned as Homeland Security acting secretary two days ago, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump bears some responsibility for the events at the US Capitol last week.

“He’s the President. What he says matters,” Wolf said in an interview with CNN. “People listen to him — particularly supporters of his, I would say, really listen to him — so there is responsibility there.”

However, it is for Congress to determine if it was an impeachable offense, Wolf said. He told CNN there is also personal responsibility for the rioters who entered the Capitol. House members, including 10 Republicans, voted 232-197 to impeach Trump on Wednesday afternoon.

Wolf stepped down as acting secretary on Monday after a government watchdog and federal judges cast doubt on his legitimacy to lead the department, including in a court ruling last Friday blocking Trump administration asylum limits. He served in an acting capacity for 14 months in the top role, a position that now will be filled by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor for the remaining days of the Trump administration.

The day after the attack on the Capitol, Wolf urged Trump and all other elected officials to condemn the violence in a sharply worded statement, while vowing to stay in his position until President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

“I was disappointed that the President didn’t speak out sooner on that. I think he had a role to do that. I think, unfortunately, the administration lost a little bit of the moral high ground on this issue by not coming out sooner on it,” he said Wednesday of Trump not swiftly condemning the violence.

Wolf told CNN he would like to see more from the President in terms of calling for nonviolent protests.

“[I]f you’re going to protest, you do that in a very nonviolent way. I’d like to have him speak, have him say that and just that,” Wolf said. “And have that be the message that carries the day.”

He said it’s not just the President but all politicians who need to call for nonviolence, pointing to violent protests over the summer. “Violence is violence,” he said.

Trump issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling for no violence “amid reports of more demonstrations” and later released a video with the same tone.

Lawmakers and senior aides had been pleading with the President to issue such a statement while bracing for members of his own party to vote to impeach him.

Wolf, who joined those pleas Wednesday, said his decision to leave office earlier than planned was due in part to the most recent court case challenging his authority to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

“As I talked with the attorneys, and we talked with the Department of Justice and others, there was no, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, there was no avenue to really fight this,” he said.

Wolf’s legitimacy has been a struggle for the department, which has had a carousel of leadership under the Trump administration, and the issue has threatened to derail policies and other actions put in place during his tenure.

Last Thursday, it was revealed that the White House had withdrawn Wolf’s official nomination to the secretary post, sparking concerns among DHS officials about whether Wolf could legally stay, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Wolf said Wednesday that the withdrawal triggered another legal issue, putting his authority as acting secretary “further in jeopardy.” He said he was unclear why the White House had taken that step. The White House previously said the withdrawal was unrelated to Wolf’s criticism of the President.

Since resigning from the top role, Wolf has remained at the department to wrap up.

He told CNN on Wednesday that he wanted to leave the department in the “best hands as possible.”

“I wanted to make sure that they had an acting secretary that could make certain decisions. Just in the last eight days alone, there’s going to be a lot of decisions that need to be made, whether internally or externally. I didn’t want all those decisions to be litigated,” Wolf said.

Wolf’s early departure fueled concerns over a department in flux as authorities brace for the possibility of more violence.

Earlier this week, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, called the timing of Wolf’s resignation “questionable,” citing concerns about the legality of his appointment. Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat who’s a member of the Armed Services Committee, accused Wolf of “shirking” his responsibilities but said the immediate question is dealing with the widespread domestic terrorism event that was “birthed last week.”

Wolf dismissed concerns that his departure so close to a major national event would impact security, saying that “it’s an operational exercise at the moment.

“The acting secretary has very little role in that other than to set some policy, make sure other Cabinet agencies are pulling their weight, which they are.”

He said law enforcement is concerned about potential attacks on soft targets in the coming days, as authorities fortify downtown Washington for the inauguration.

“Individuals that want to be violent, that want to take matters into their own hands. They’re looking for soft targets, they’re not looking for hard targets. And so obviously, the concern there is that DC is hardened, where do they go?” Wolf said, pointing to the massive security presence rolling out in the capital.

In one of his last acts as acting secretary, Wolf authorized the start date of the National Special Security Event designation to be moved up to January 13 from January 19. The designation, which places the US Secret Service as the lead agency, allows for a higher level of security and more law enforcement coordination. The department wanted all law enforcement assets in place for the weekend and any permitted gatherings, he said.

Wolf said he is “very confident about law enforcement’s ability to make sure that the inauguration is safe and secure as it can be.”

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called on DHS to immediately add the “insurrectionists” who stormed the Capitol to the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list. Schumer said he’s talked with FBI Director Christopher Wray twice in the last few days.

Wolf, who was involved in the establishment of TSA, pushed back on the idea of adding people involved in the riot to the no-fly list. “That is a very slippery slope, when we talk about US persons, that is a very slippery slope,” he said, arguing that people arrested for violent acts during protests this summer would also need to be added to the list.

He said adding people to the list is a “very serious issue” that should be thoroughly thought out.

This story has been updated with additional details from the interview.

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