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Trump, in unexpected move, withdraws nomination to head ICE

Ron Vitiello is currently the acting leader of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and had been expected to travel with the president to the border today.
Image: Ron Vitiello
Ron Vitiello during an interview in Richmond, Virginia on Nov. 9, 2018.Steve Helber / AP file

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has withdrawn his nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, choosing instead to go with a nominee who would chart the critical immigration agency "in a tougher direction."

"We're going in a little different direction. Ron is a good man, but we're going in a tougher direction. We want to go in a tougher direction," Trump told reporters Friday morning ahead of a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, when asked about reports that Vitiello's nomination to lead ICE had been withdrawn.

Earlier Friday, NBC News reported that Trump had withdrawn the nomination, citing a document sent to members of Congress on Thursday. A Department of Homeland Security official confirmed the document's veracity.

The decision about Vitiello was unexpected, and confusion surrounded the circumstances.

Vitiello had been expected to travel later Friday with Trump to Calexico, California, where the president is scheduled to visit a newly constructed section of replacement border barrier, which the White House has touted as a new section of the president's wall. It’s not clear whether he will still do so.

News of Vitiello’s nomination being withdrawn was first reported by The Associated Press.

Trump had nominated Vitiello, who is the acting head of ICE — the agency tasked with enforcing immigration law in the interior of the U.S. — to be the organization’s permanent leader last August.

Vitiello has been a law enforcement agent for more than 30 years, starting in 1985 with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Peter Alexander reported from Washington, and Adam Edelman reported from New York.