Just one day before President Donald Trump is set to meet his first foreign leader since taking office, top-tier career staff in charge of the day-to-day management of the Department of State are leaving en masse, according to The Washington Post.
The most senior among the managers leaving the department is Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary for management, according to the Post’s Josh Rogin. Others include assistant secretaries in charge of administration and consular affairs, and the director of the office of foreign missions.
The departures come on the heels of other losses in the management division. On the day Trump was inaugurated, the assistant secretary in charge of diplomatic security announced his retirement, and the director of the office of overseas building operations resigned.
There appears to be some question about whether the career diplomats leaving the State Department are leaving of their own accord, or are being purged by the incoming administration. While the Post reports that these were voluntary departures, other outlets including CNN are reporting that the senior managers were effectively fired.
Whatever the case, the unexpected departure of such a large percentage of senior managers who had served under both Republican and Democratic administrations comes at a time when there is broad nervousness within the State Department about the direction of policy under the new president. Trump’s unpredictability and his tendency to make bombastic pronouncements about both America’s allies and its adversaries have left the world guessing about his intentions in countless arenas.
Just Thursday morning, in a wildly unprecedented breach of normal diplomatic courtesies, the new president used Twitter to suggest that the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, should cancel a planned visit to Washington to meet with Trump unless he agrees to pay for a massive wall the administration plans to build between the two countries.
Later Thursday morning, the Mexican president responded in kind, cancelling what would have been the first meeting between them since Trump took office.
Only days into his job, Trump’s new secretary of state, former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, now needs to find a way to address a tremendous combined loss of institutional memory at a time when the new administration is attempting to find its balance in its first months in office.
Trump is scheduled to meet tomorrow with British Prime Minister Theresa May. His first encounter with the leader of one of the country’s closest and most dependable allies will be watched with as much or more anxiety in the UK as it will here in the U.S.