Homeland Security leadership purge continues as Trump ousts Secret Service Director Randolph Alles

Homeland Security leadership purge continues as Trump ousts Secret Service Director Randolph Alles

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration continued its leadership purge at the top levels of the Department of Homeland Security on Monday, announcing the removal of Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles.

“Alles has done a great job at the agency over the last two years, and the president is thankful for his over 40 years of service to the country," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. She said he would be replaced by Assistant Director James Murray.

The White House offered no explanation for the director's removal.

Alles, who disputed that he was fired, is expected to leave his post next month.

“No doubt you have seen media reports regarding my 'firing,'" the director said in an internal message to staffers. "I assure you that this is not the case, and in fact was told weeks ago by the administration that transitions in leadership should be expected across the Department of Homeland Security. The president has directed an orderly transition in leadership for this agency and I intend to abide by that direction. It is my sincere regret that I was not able to address the workforce prior to this announcement."

Alles took office less than two years ago as the service emerged from a series of White House security breaches and incidents of agent misconduct. A senior official who is not authorized to comment publicly confirmed that the director was informed two weeks ago that the White House was making the change. The person said his ouster was part of a broader leadership shakeup throughout Homeland Security.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned Sunday night. President Donald Trump rescinded his nomination of Ron Vitiello to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying he wanted to go in a "tougher" direction.

Nielsen and Alles were part of a leadership team assembled by White House chief of staff John Kelly, who previously ran the Homeland Security Department. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, had close ties with Nielsen. Alles, himself a former Marine major general, served as the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection under Kelly.

The official said Alles' removal was not related to last week's arrest of a Chinese national who penetrated security checkpoints at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, carrying a cache of electronics that included a malware-infected thumb drive.

That incident prompted the FBI to begin reviewing whether the president's resort could be vulnerable to foreign spying. A government official familiar with the inquiry said it was opened out of "an abundance of caution," as it was unclear what threat, if any, the woman, Yujing Zhang, represented.

Asked last week whether he was concerned about the security breach, Trump betrayed no indication that he was mulling a change at the Secret Service, lavishing only praise on the agency.

"Secret Service is fantastic," Trump said Wednesday. "These are fantastic people. ... I would say I could not be happier with Secret Service. Secret Service has done a fantastic job from day one. Very happy with them."

During his brief tenure overseeing a staff of 6,500 and a $1.6 billion budget, Alles won legislative approval to compensate more than 1,000 agents for hundreds of hours in unpaid overtime as they sought to protect Trump's large family.

Alles pushed for the additional compensation after USA TODAY first reported that the agency could not pay hundreds of agents who had reached federally mandated caps on salary and overtime allowances as the agency grappled with protecting a president and his extended family who travel frequently.

More: Exclusive: Secret Service depletes funds to pay agents because of Trump's frequent travel, large family

Under Trump, the service protected an unprecedented 42 officials, up from 31 during the Obama administration. The number included 18 Trump family members.

Alles acknowledged the president's large family in an interview with USA TODAY but said there was "no flexibility" in the service's mandated protective responsibility.

"I can't change that," he said.

Before he was named to replace Alles, Murray was responsible for the planning and coordination of the agency's protective mission. In that role, Murray presided over presidential and foreign dignitary protection; special national security events, including the annual State of the Union address; and the protection of critical national facilities.

Murray joined the service in 1995 as a special agent in the New York field office where he conducted cyber-related financial crime investigations and served and worked on a terrorism task force. In 2001, Murray was appointed to the Presidential Protective Division and promoted as the deputy special agent in charge of presidential protection.

In Alles' message to staffers, he described Murray as a "true leader" and urged the agency to support his appointment.

"It has been my great honor to serve as director of the U.S. Secret Service," Alles said.

In this Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, file photo, President
In this Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, file photo, President

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Homeland Security leadership purge continues as Trump ousts Secret Service Director Randolph Alles