Today’s Fake News freakout began with a buzzing swarm of headlines about “mass resignations” by the “entire senior level of management officials” at the State Department resigning in some stunning act of protest against President Trump.
Before long, we learned we were talking about four people, and they did not resign, they were fired.
“The State Department’s Entire Senior Management Team Just Resigned,” gasped the Washington Post, prompting a ripple of secondary headlines across mediaspace. Some of those headlines were a bit more cautious, such as the Jerusalem Post reporting that the State Department team resigned “in a possibly coordinated walkout.”
As it turns out, that “walkout” was coordinated by the Trump administration:
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 26, 2017
From CNN’s full story on the matter:
All four, career officers serving in positions appointed by the President, submitted letters of resignation per tradition at the beginning of a new administration.
The letters from the White House said that their resignations were accepted and they were thanked for their service.
The White House usually asks career officials in such positions to stay on for a few months until their successors are confirmed.
“Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “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.”
“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,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service.”
The “entire senior management” team suffering this “mass” obliteration consists of Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, Ambassador Gentry O. Smith of the Office of Foreign Missions, and most notably Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, who tried to drag the FBI into Hillary Clinton’s cover-ups.
Kennedy has also been accused of playing a role in the Benghazi disaster, although the State Department’s internal review “downplayed” his role in the “decision-making that led to the inadequate security posture in Benghazi,” as the Washington Examiner recalls. The Examiner also notes his “you can’t fire me, I quit” retirement was announced yesterday, so treating it like big news today is somewhat disingenuous.
The Trump campaign said that Kennedy had to go, and called (in vain, of course) on Hillary Clinton to speak out against him, as well. This is not some shocking walkout by a defiant Resistance speaking truth to power – it is President Trump fulfilling a campaign promise on his fourth day in office.
Also, while most news reports described the four outgoing officials as holding their offices under both Republican and Democrat administrations, to promote the impression they were nonpartisan fixtures of the bureaucracy who just couldn’t handle the arrival of President Trump, that is really only true of Kennedy, and he was only in position for two years before the Obama administration began. Joyce Barr was appointed in 2011, while Michele Bond and Gentry Smith were appointed in 2015.
The Hill reports that these four joined “a number of other officials who have departed since President Trump took office last week,” but goes on to cite only two names: Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr, who retired, and Bureau of Overseas Building Operations Lydia Muniz.
CNN notes that Starr only came out of retirement in 2012, and planned all along to retire at the end of the Obama administration, even if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election.
The American Foreign Service Association also shot down the narrative about mass resignations: While this appears to be a large turnover in a short period of time, a change of administration always brings personnel changes, and there is nothing unusual about rotations or retirements in the Foreign Service. Indeed, both are essential to the development of a steady stream of experienced leaders ready to assume critical roles at State.
“Given the talent available in our diplomatic corps, we expect that the new Secretary will have no trouble finding the right people at State to fill out his senior leadership team,” the AFSA added, referring to Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, who still awaits a final confirmation vote.
The New York Daily News falsely implied Tillerson’s visit to the State Department on Wednesday actually prompted the “walk-outs” that didn’t happen, adding another prime clipping to the day’s scrapbook of Fake News.
All of these folks are entitled to their opinions, just like anyone else, and if they are profoundly displeased by the election of Donald Trump, they are free to say so. The American people are equally entitled to wonder if the State Department should have so many partisan officials, and to look back on the long record of scandals and cover-ups in the Obama State Department as justification for a vigorous house-cleaning.