Despite some initial speculation that their 'unexpected' and 'abrupt' departures were possibly an expression of protest by employees who did not want to work for the State Department under President Trump, later reporting on Wednesday indicates the mass exodus was triggered, according to department officials, by the new administration "cleaning house" and telling the top-level managers their services were no longer needed.
"Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong," one unnamed senior State Department official told CNN. "These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house."
On the record, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told the Washington Post, "These positions are political appointments, and require the president to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments, but of limited term,” Toner said.
In what some are interpreting as a collective—and "unexpected"—expression of dissent aimed at President Donald Trump and his soon-to-be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the entire senior management at the State Department reportedly resigned from their positions early Wednesday afternoon.
"It's unclear why exactly these officials resigned in every case, but it seems certain that they didn’t agree with the direction Trump and Tillerson are taking our foreign policy."
—Naomi Ages, Greenpeace
According to the Washinginton Post's Josh Rogin, who first reported the news:
Tillerson was actually inside the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, taking meetings and getting the lay of the land. I reported Wednesday morning that the Trump team was narrowing its search for his No. 2, and that it was looking to replace the State Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy, who has been in that job for nine years, was actively involved in the transition and was angling to keep that job under Tillerson, three State Department officials told me.
Then suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. 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, followed him out the door. All are career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
"It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate," David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry, told Rogin.
Responding to the news, Naomi Ages, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA, said the exodus makes sense for career officials unwilling to work under the controversial new head of their agency.
"We know former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is dangerous, we know he’s unqualified, we know Americans don't want him representing them, and it now seems like the most senior officials of the State Department know it too," Ages said in a statement immediately after the news broke. "It's unclear why exactly these officials resigned in every case, but it seems certain that they didn’t agree with the direction Trump and Tillerson are taking our foreign policy. It is still possible for our Senators to change course and reject Rex Tillerson. It’s their duty to stop this disaster from unfolding any further."