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The DEA chief is reportedly resigning because he believes Trump doesn’t respect the law

“I will continue to root for you,” he reportedly wrote to DEA staff, “now from the sidelines.”

DEA head Chuck Rosenberg, left, with former FBI director James Comey.
DEA head Chuck Rosenberg, left, with former FBI director James Comey, right.
Susan Walsh/Pool via Getty Images

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to step down this week, according to the New York Times and Washington Post, because he doesn’t believe that President Donald Trump respects the law.

Chuck Rosenberg’s decision reportedly comes after the president fired former FBI Director James Comey, whom Rosenberg previously worked for, and after Trump joked about police brutality, telling cops “please don’t be too nice” with crime suspects. Both moments apparently led to friction between Rosenberg and Trump.

According to the Times, Rosenberg sent a letter to DEA staff about his resignation on Tuesday. “The neighborhoods in which we live are better for your commitment to the rule of law, dedication to the cause of justice and perseverance in the face of adversity,” he wrote. “You will continue to do great things. I will continue to root for you, now from the sidelines.”

Rosenberg wasn’t exactly a reformer at the DEA, previously calling medical marijuana “a joke.” But he did reportedly push for more research into marijuana, moving to lift limitations on the drug that have long made it difficult to study. That apparently led to pushback by his newer bosses at the Justice Department — which is now led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who once said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” opposes legalization of any kind, and rescinded an Obama-era memo that pulled back mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenders.

Whoever replaces Rosenberg will be charged with running a key agency in the federal law enforcement response to the ongoing opioid epidemic, which now contributes to tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths annually. The DEA not only helps enforce the law against illicitly produced drugs like heroin and fentanyl as part of its broader efforts in the war on drugs, but it also controls the regulatory quota system for opioid painkillers — a power that it has only lightly wielded as doctors have prescribed more and more of the medications.

Rosenberg’s departure isn’t a big surprise, since he was serving in an acting capacity and Trump was likely looking to appoint his own DEA head. But his reported reasons for quitting, as well as his apparent refusal to take other posts at the Justice Department, suggest more trouble for Trump down the line.

Trump’s scandals are catching up to him

There has been a narrative in the media that Trumps is (figuratively) made of Teflon, meaning that none of the scandals associated with him, from his tweets to the Russia investigation, seem to have a big effect on him or his administration. But setting aside that Trump’s job approval numbers are remarkably low, the Rosenberg resignation shows another way that this stuff hurts Trump: The scandals may make it harder for him to staff up.

So far, several people in high-level posts have quit the Trump administration: Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and more. And, of course, Trump fired Comey.

This is simply not the kind of turnover you want to see in an administration’s infancy, as it tries to implement policy and set up a new culture in the White House and beyond. Yet Trump is running into big problems on this end, with hundreds of top jobs still vacant as of August.

Much of this has to do with Trump just being slow to nominate people to the jobs, which Trump has excused in the past by arguing that he doesn’t want to fill all these positions because he feels “you don’t need all those jobs.”

But it’s simply going to be much harder to attract people to this administration when there’s an image that it’s engulfed in chaos. It’s simple: If you’re a smart up-and-comer, why would you join an administration that seems to be mired in scandal, in which even job security isn’t guaranteed and basic rules and ethics are seemingly breached?

Rosenberg, for one, seemed to decide to quit in part due to his belief that Trump doesn’t believe in the rule of law, in part because Trump fired his confidant and former boss, James Comey. It’s a clear example of the scandal getting in the way of someone being willing to stay on the job.

Now Trump will have to find a replacement for the DEA chief, adding to the list of hundreds of jobs that he’s been slow to fill.