The ambassador picked by President Trump to determine official government protocol with foreign leaders has resigned after accusations that he carried a whip around the office.
Chief of Protocol Sean Lawler is resigning his post, following reports of a possible internal probe of allegations of intimidation and harassment.
The sudden move comes just as Trump prepares to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and other world leaders at the G20 summit in Japan.
There were scant details immediately available about the reason for Lawler’s departure.
Bloomberg reported he was accused of intimidating staff – and even carrying a whip around the office.
He is not expected to return to his position.
The chief of protocol is responsible for managing the formalities of presidential visits with foreign leaders.
The multi-leader forum includes multiple meetings where even the best-laid plans might not avoid diplomatic awkwardness.
The Putin meeting once again puts Trump in the room with the leader the intelligence community assesses was behind Russia’s election hacking.
The Xi meeting comes amid Trump’s threat to impose another $300 billion in tariffs amid a trade war.
Trump also will sit down with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi.
Lawler was confirmed to his post by the Senate on a voice vote in 2017 after being nominated by Trump.
He has the rank of ambassador and reports to the Secretary of State.
According to the State Department’s chief of protocol page: ‘Our team extends the first hand that welcomes presidents, prime ministers, ruling monarchs, and other leaders to our country. By serving on the front lines of diplomatic engagement, we promote cross-cultural exchange and build new bridges of understanding between people and governments around the world.’
The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment, and a Capitol Hill official was still gathering information on the situation.
Lawler previously served on the National Security Council and in the Navy, where he served as Office of Visits and Protocol at the U.S. Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Maryland.
He also previously served as Director of Administration at the Naval Support Facility Thurmont (Camp David), the presidential retweet that Trump visited just last weekend.
Two officials told NBC Lawler had been suspended indefinitely, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
The assistant chief of protocol, Mary-Kate Fisher, will attend the summit meeting in his place. The second leg of the trip takes Trump to South Korea for more high-stakes nuclear diplomacy.