USA First Look

Top officials at US State Department abruptly resign (+video)

Patrick Kennedy, who was criticized by President Trump while on the campaign trail, resigned with several of his close staff on Wednesday.

State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 21, 2011. Mr. Kennedy, a top US diplomat who played a prominent role in the Benghazi investigations and controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails is resigning.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File | Caption

The State Department’s senior management core resigned abruptly on Wednesday, according to reports, in a move that could jam the department’s cogs in the early days of the Trump administration.

Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary for management since the last year of the Bush presidency, left along with three of his top officials –Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, according to The Washington Post

The news comes a week after Trump’s pick for secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was confirmed by the Senate foreign relations committee, though the full Senate has not yet voted on his nomination. It remains unclear what prompted the sudden resignations. Mr. Kennedy had been active in the Trump transition and had been reported to have been angling to stay on under the new administration, according to the Washington Post.

The departures could slow international efforts by the Trump administration. Management posts, filled by career foreign service officers who serve for Republican and Democratic administrations alike, are charged with keeping embassies running – they handle everything from technical issues to human resources, security, finances, and real estate matters, according to the American Foreign Service Association. At the lower levels, they work closely with ambassadors at individual embassies; farther up the chain, they oversee allocations and other department resources. 

The departure of Kennedy and his closest staff depletes an already-eroded core of senior management staff: Gregory Starr, assistant secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, retired last week, along with Lydia Muniz, director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. And Reuters reported that Thomas Countryman, the acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, was asked to leave by Friday.

Some degree of turnover typically accompanies handoffs of power, even among the career class, and it remains unclear how many of the departures might be classified as such.

But the abrupt resignation of Kennedy and company could add political charge to the event: as the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified emails on a private server during the presidential campaign, Kennedy repeatedly tried to convince FBI officials that one of the emails in question should be considered declassified, according to documents released in October to CNN.  

The documents also contain statements from two FBI officials who intimated that a “quid pro quo” could have been involved in Kennedy’s efforts. Then-candidate Trump leaped on the allegations, calling it “one of the great miscarriages of justice in the history of our country” and accusing the State Department of “trying to cover up Hillary’s crimes”, according to Fox News.

David Wade, who served under former Secretary of State John Kerry as the Department’s chief of staff, told the Post that their loss would leave a “void.”

“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said Mr. Wade. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.”