- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2017

Anthony Scaramucci became a punchline in Washington, but his turbulent 11-day stint as White House communications director last summer also was symbolic of President Trump’s first year in office.

Dozens of senior administration officials quit or were forced out in Mr. Trump’s first year, a turnover rate of roughly 33 percent — triple the pace of some previous administrations, according to a researcher who tracks White House staffing changes.

Moreover, another wave of high-level resignations has begun and is likely to extend into the new year. It is expected to include Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and White House economics director Gary Cohn.

Every White House undergoes significant staff turnover, but shake-ups at the Trump White House in 2017 seemed to be on steroids.

Sources say the turmoil is primarily a product of Mr. Trump, a frenetic, demanding boss who prides himself on shunning the ways of Washington and — like most other presidents — dislikes his aides getting too much credit. Add that dynamic to a workplace that is traditionally one of the most stressful in government, with high stakes and long hours, and the results were predictable.



“One year in a Trump administration is equal to two or three in another White House,” said a veteran Republican operative who is close to the West Wing. “It’s because of the intensity. They’ve had to set up, as well as manage, a very unconventional president who causes a lot of anxiety and energy spent trying to figure out what the hell is going on. At the White House, you really have to sign on to being inside a tornado.”

Sebastian Gorka, a Trump adviser on counterterrorism and national security who left the White House in August, said the turnover is “not really unusual” compared with prior administrations.

Regardless, he said, the personnel changes “will have zero effect on President Trump’s agenda” because the president has a consistent vision and because Mr. Trump keeps in touch with former staffers.

“He is an unstoppable force of nature who keeps his promises, be it to destroy ISIS or recognize Jerusalem” as the Israeli capital, Mr. Gorka said. “Second, he is very loyal to those who are loyal to him, and values their counsel, whether they work inside the administration or not.”

A senior administration official suggested that at least some of the ousted White House staffers were too interested in self-promotion and may have tried to take advantage of Mr. Trump.

Donald Trump is a very trusting leader and manager,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “The president didn’t make any mistakes [in hiring]. He thinks that people would want to serve the public and serve this great country for the right reasons. I don’t think that makes him any different than every president that served and loves their country. They all want to do right, and they think that they’re surrounding themselves with people who agree. They don’t think that people are necessarily here for other reasons.”

The official added that the West Wing “is a well-managed place now under Chief [of Staff John F.] Kelly,” who replaced Reince Priebus in July.

“What this president has now is space and time to think and to deliberate and to hear from the experts on that particular issue or that particular matter,” the aide said.

The exodus of senior staff started with White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who didn’t last even a month on the job before he was shown the door in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his talks with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

He has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Flynn’s resignation was followed in March by Deputy White House Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, a casualty of the administration’s first failed effort to repeal Obamacare in Congress and the chaotic working conditions in the West Wing.

On May 9, Mr. Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, saying he no longer had confidence that Mr. Comey could lead the agency effectively.

The president criticized Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email server. Mr. Comey said the president asked him to go easy on Flynn and requested his loyalty, accusations that Mr. Trump has denied.

But without a doubt, it was the high-profile staff churn in the White House from Friday, July 21, to Monday, July 31, that left even veteran Washington observers with jaws agape.

On July 21, the president announced that he had hired Mr. Scaramucci, a Wall Street whiz-kid with a fondness for aviator sunglasses and a professed love for Mr. Trump, as communications director. The post had been held by Michael Dubke, who left after a few months.

Within hours of Mr. Scaramucci’s hiring, White House press secretary Sean Spicer quit rather than report to Mr. Scaramucci, who had virtually no Washington communications experience. Michael Short, an assistant press secretary who was an alumnus of the Republican National Committee like Mr. Spicer and Mr. Priebus, also soon resigned. The president promoted deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to replace Mr. Spicer.

Mr. Scaramucci’s White House career started to unravel just five days after it began. On July 26, a Wednesday, he had dinner at the White House with the president, Fox News host Sean Hannity and others. The gathering was leaked to The New Yorker magazine reporter Ryan Lizza, who tweeted about it.

Before the night was out, Mr. Scaramucci called the reporter, demanding to know his source. Mr. Lizza wouldn’t say, and Mr. Scaramucci launched into a profane tirade over the phone, threatening to fire the entire White House communications team and calling then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic” whose job status was precarious.

Mr. Scaramucci said later that he believed the conversation was off the record. Mr. Lizza disagreed and published an account of the interview on July 27.

At 3:49 p.m. on July 28, after a presidential trip to Long Island, New York, Mr. Trump tweeted some more staff news while aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland: “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff.”

Mr. Priebus, former chairman of the RNC, was out after just six months, one of the shortest stints ever for a White House chief of staff. But people close to the White House note that turnover isn’t always a bad thing and that Mr. Trump’s team needed a stronger personality to run the West Wing.

“It was definitely the right move,” the Republican operative said of Mr. Priebus’ ouster. “He’s just a political guy; he was not a White House institutional person. He’s never led a team like that. Gen. Kelly has been very helpful in enacting a lot more discipline, but it’s still a very unconventional place.”

Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who had been serving as Homeland Security secretary, took over in the West Wing on July 31. His arrival signaled a more disciplined White House.

Within hours, Mr. Scaramucci was gone, 11 days after he arrived. A media wag commented that if you had purchased a carton of milk on the day Mr. Scaramucci was hired, it was still safe to drink.

As Mr. Kelly exerted more control over access to the president, there were more staff departures to come.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, blamed by some for encouraging white nationalists who engaged in a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, resigned in August and took up the cause of promoting Republican congressional candidates who would align with Mr. Trump.

One of those candidates backed by Mr. Bannon, Roy Moore of Alabama, went down to a disastrous defeat on Dec. 12, losing a special Senate election in the one of the most conservative states in the union.

Also along the way, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced out of his post in a scandal over the cost of private jet travel. Longtime Trump aide Keith Schiller also left the White House and returned to the Trump Organization.

In early December, Omarosa Manigault Newman, one of the president’s few close black advisers, was forced out of the White House in a confrontation with Mr. Kelly. The former “Apprentice” star claimed she had a “troubling” story to tell about attitudes toward blacks in the West Wing.

Dina Powell, a top national security aide and veteran of the George W. Bush administration, also announced her resignation.

People close to the White House predict another wave of departures in the new year, including Deputy White House Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn.

The senior administration official dismissed questions about staff turnover as “palace intrigue” and defended Mr. Trump as an experienced CEO in the private sector who knows personnel.

“The president is very accustomed to hiring and managing a number of individuals. And it really does set him apart — his private sector experience — in knowing how to build teams,” the official said. “We have a really good team here. We have a team that is very well-managed by the chief of staff.”

A second senior administration official said voters don’t care about turmoil as much as they care about “the accomplishments of the administration.”

“I think the American people were looking for someone who is a businessman, who is successful, and they wanted results,” the official said. “They were tired of dysfunction in Washington. As you walk through what’s happened to our economy, what’s happened when we’re turning around this country, I think that’s what people are looking for.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide