Influential Diplomat Steps Down Amid Large-Scale Exodus at State Department

The State Department's third-ranking official has stepped down amid a wide-scale exodus that continues to hit the diplomatic arm of Trump's administration.

"Thirty-five years is a long time. I've fought the good fight," Tom Shannon, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, told CNN and the Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.

Shannon is a diplomat whose career included a quick stint as acting secretary of state before Rex Tillerson held the post. He said he would resign once a successor was confirmed.

Although reports indicate that Shannon's retirement was expected, it follows an ongoing reshuffling of senior foreign service officers, when low morale has continued to hit Foggy Bottom.

Shannon told outlets on Wednesday that the move is personal not political. Tillerson made an appearance in the interview and echoed those sentiments, noting that Shannon had been thinking of the move "for some time" and expressed how much he would be "really missed."

After the announcement, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted on Thursday, "He's a patriot, a diplomat and a great American." "Working with him has been one of the great honors of my life."

Undersecretary Shannon has given a lifetime of service to the American people @StateDept. He’s a patriot, a diplomat and a great American.
Working with him has been one of the great honors of my life. He will stay on until a successor is named to ensure a smooth transition.

— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) February 1, 2018

Former president Barack Obama appointed Shannon as undersecretary in February 2016. While Shannon saw himself as a "designated survivor," he wanted to carry over his duty into the Trump era.

In Wednesday's interview, Shannon said he would stay a year under Tillerson's leadership, believing that the allotted time would allow for "maximum impact."

Shannon led U.S.-Russia negotiations amid rising tensions and is also a climate change advocate. He was expected to lead the U.S. delegation in its first climate talks since Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement, but he pulled out because of a family emergency.

A well-respected career ambassador across diplomatic channels, Shannon rose up the ranks after joining the foreign service in 1984, serving under six presidents and 10 secretaries. Shannon's posts have spanned from counselor of the State Department, ambassador to Brazil and political counselor to Venezuela. He was also a special assistant to President George W. Bush.

The State Department has been hit with criticism over empty posts and resignations, as well as the administration's downgrade of soft power, as it grapples with continued rumors that Tillerson would leave his post.

As reports that Tillerson was on his way out reached a fever pitch in December, he made the rounds at U.S. missions in Europe, denying media accounts while overhauling his State Department redesign.

From day one, the former Exxon Mobil CEO has been on the offense about the State Department's budget cuts, thwarting concerns from both political parties, amid high-profile resignations, including recent departures of U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley and Elizabeth Shackelford, a Nairobi-based political officer for the U.S. mission to Somalia whose resignation letter became a loud voice against current policies.

A month into its tenure, the senior administrative team resigned last January, foretelling the waves of what would become the State Department's sliding door for many of its senior staff.