This week was a tumultuous one in the West Wing, even by the drama-laden standards of President Donald Trump’s White House.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus resigned on Thursday after newly appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly singled him out in an ill-informed crusade against leaks to the news media, describing Priebus in one interview as a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic.” Trump, never one to shrink from a grudge match, was reportedly disappointed in Priebus for not punching back at the hedge fund manager-turned-spokesman informally known as “the Mooch.”
Amid that kind of surreal palace intrigue, it is easy to forget just how many top administration officials, most of them in the White House, have either left or been forced out since Trump took office in January.
It is common for presidents to shuffle staff over time, especially after major political setbacks. But the sheer number of high-profile dismissals and departures in Trump’s orbit so early in his presidency speaks to the unique chaos he has wrought with his management style, behavior and judgment.
Long before Priebus left, Trump pushed out several of the former Republican National Committee chairman’s allies in the administration. The president transferred Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh to his political group in March. Earlier this week, Michael Short, an assistant press secretary with apparent ties to Priebus, resigned after Scaramucci hinted at plans to fire him.
Trump’s stinging criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggests he will churn through still more of his loyal deputies in the near future.
What follows is a list of some of the biggest casualties of the Trump administration prior to Priebus’ exit, in the order they occurred. We have not included the dismissals of acting Attorney General Sally Yates and Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, both of whom were holdovers from former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn lasted all of three weeks as Trump’s national security adviser before being pushed out. A leak in February revealed that Flynn, an early Trump supporter, had discussed American sanctions on Russia with Sergey Kislyak, then-Russian ambassador to the United States, prior to Inauguration Day.
The revelation contradicted Flynn’s previous statements to the contrary, as well as the similar assurances of other top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Flynn has since attracted scrutiny for accepting a significant cash payment from Russian state-sponsored TV network Russia Today and for sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala for the network in Moscow.
The discoveries about Flynn, who advocated for stronger ties with Russia, fueled suspicion about possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government in its efforts to influence the November election. Former FBI Director James Comey confirmed in June that Flynn is one of the Trump officials whose ties to Russia are the subject of a criminal investigation. (The inquiry is specifically focused on whether Flynn lied to FBI agents.)
Flynn’s brief White House career included bizarre episodes such as reportedly fielding a late-night call from Trump about whether a strong dollar was preferable. Prior to joining Trump’s team, Flynn won praise as an innovative military leader while serving in Iraq, but Obama forced out Flynn from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 amid concerns about Flynn’s bellicose attitude toward Iran and fractious relationships with colleagues.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Flynn was criticized for espousing anti-Muslim views and leading attendees of the Republican National Convention in a chant of “Lock her up!” aimed at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Given Flynn’s controversial history, one would think that letting him go would have been one of Trump’s easier decisions. But Trump reportedly had more difficulty giving Flynn his walking papers than other senior staff members he’s canned, and the president stayed in touch with him for months afterward. In fact, Trump’s frustration with the pressure he felt to get rid of Flynn seems to have contributed to his decision to sack Comey in what became the most infamous of his firings.
When Trump got rid of FBI Director James Comey in May, he apparently thought it would be uncontroversial. Comey, after all, had drawn the ire of Democrats for revealing in the final stretch of the presidential campaign that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. At the time, Democrats attacked Comey for breaching agency protocol on keeping inquiries secret, and they have since said the negative press it generated at the last minute clinched the election for Trump.
But the timing of Trump’s decision led to suspicion from the outset. Comey’s ouster came less than two months after the FBI director confirmed that his agency was investigating Trump campaign associates’ ties to Russia and mere days after testimony to Congress in which he said the idea that his campaign disclosure about Clinton had influenced the election made him “mildly nauseous.”
The Trump administration’s divergent explanations for the termination only served to fan the flames. In an interview with NBC News shortly after the firing, Trump strongly implied that he fired Comey for aggressively pursuing the Russia investigation and accused him of being a “showboat.” Administration officials also claimed, rather implausibly, that Trump was punishing Comey for his treatment of Clinton and that Comey had lost the confidence of FBI agents.
Congressional Democrats seized on Comey’s firing as evidence that Trump tried to obstruct efforts to learn the truth about Russian interference in the election and whether Trump campaign aides attempted to collude with the foreign power.
The fallout from Comey’s firing has became one of Trump’s biggest headaches. Later in May, the pressure prompted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor to investigate Trump campaign associates’ ties to Russia. And in devastating testimony to Congress in June, Comey revealed, among other things, that Trump had pressed him to drop his investigation of Michael Flynn, something that many legal scholars believe is an impeachable abuse of power.
Now Trump is reportedly examining ways to undermine Mueller by either pre-emptively pardoning officials or firing him outright.
Mike Dubke, who started as Trump’s communications director in mid-February, resigned from the post at the end of May. In an administration known for its colorful characters, Dubke flew below the radar, rarely appearing on television or talking to reporters on the record.
Little is known about the circumstances surrounding his departure, but Dubke’s background as head of an establishment GOP communications firm that worked against Trump during the 2016 primary elicited skepticism from Trump loyalists from the get-go. His struggle to build strong relationships with other senior staff members isolated him in the White House, according to The Washington Post. Notably, Dubke also left following the weekslong brouhaha over Trump’s firing of Comey, during which Trump frequently contradicted his own communications team.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who served as communications director of the Republican National Committee under Priebus, resigned abruptly on July 21. Spicer endured months of humiliation while defending Trump’s lies and boosting his ego to a restive press corps.
His relationship with the media was rocky from the start, thanks to a rant on his first day on the job in which he declared that Trump had received the biggest Inauguration Day crowds in history and then refused to take questions.
Trump would go on to take issue not with Spicer’s comments that day but with the light color of his suit. Spicer’s daily televised press briefings became must-watch television thanks to his over-the-top explanations and inability to conceal his contempt for assembled journalists.
His irritable performances were quickly immortalized by Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of him on “Saturday Night Live,” which Trump reportedly disliked. Spicer’s remarkable gaffes included his claim that Syrian President Bashar Assad was worse than Adolf Hitler, because Hitler, he erroneously said, had not used chemical weapons.
Ironically, the impossibility of Spicer’s job and the abuse he suffered for it were not what finally led him to part ways with Trump. Instead, Spicer left because he could not stand the idea of working under Scaramucci. He announced his departure after Trump shared news of the hedge fund manager’s appointment.