Michael Flynn set a record on Monday with his resignation as the White House national security adviser: No one in the 64-year history of the role had a shorter tenure than his, not by a long shot.
President Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation late Monday, after Flynn acknowledged misleading Vice President Pence and other administration officials about his potentially illegal conversations with a Russian envoy. In his resignation letter, Flynn blamed the “fast pace of events” surrounding the White House transition for the lapse, saying he “inadvertently” gave the officials “incomplete information.”
In total, he was on the job just 24 days.
Most national security advisers last a lot longer.
The position was created in 1953 by President Dwight Eisenhower, and was originally titled special assistant for national security affairs. Twenty-five people have held the position since then, not including Keith Kellogg, who was tapped by Trump to fill the role while the administration looks for Flynn’s replacement.
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) February 14, 2017
Almost every national security adviser has served for more than a year, and most longer than that. The average is about 2.6 years.
Henry Kissinger had the longest run, serving from early 1969 until late 1975. Until Flynn’s resignation, William H. Jackson had the shortest. A U.S. Army intelligence officer during World War II, Jackson rose through the ranks in the nation’s budding intelligence community and was eventually appointed special assistant for national security affairs in 1956. Eisenhower shuffled him out amid changes on the National Security Council just four months later, according to a White House history. It doesn’t seem to have been a controversial decision at the time.
During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the position became a revolving door. Reagan went through six national security advisers in eight years.
Richard Allen, the first Reagan administration official to hold the job, lasted just a few weeks shy of a year. At the beginning of 1982, he stepped down after allegations arose that he accepted a $1,000 bribe from a Japanese magazine when one of its reporters interviewed the first lady in the White House. Allen was later cleared of wrongdoing, stirring speculation that he was muscled out over conflicts with Reagan’s secretary of state.
“Politics was involved,” he said at the time. He questioned how he could “find himself in a position where his resignation would be submitted and accepted,” despite being cleared, according to a CQ Almanac report.
Robert “Bud” McFarlane had served a little more than two years as national security adviser when he stepped down in 1985 for what he said were personal reasons. He later pleaded guilty to his role in the coverup of the Iran-contra affair, in which administration officials helped sell arms to Iran in order to fund militant groups in Nicaragua. At one point he attempted suicide by overdosing on Valium.
His successor, John Poindexter, was also a key player in the Iran-contra affair. A 2009 story from the New Republic recalls a trip the two men made to Iran when McFarlane was still in the position:
As Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, he embarked on a secret mission to Tehran — which he and his future successor, John Poindexter, had promoted in the White House — bearing a chocolate cake topped with a brass key (meant to symbolize a “new opening”), a crate of missile parts, and a Bible signed by the president. The ultimate result was the arms-for-hostages deal that almost destroyed Reagan’s presidency and earned McFarlane multiple charges of withholding information from Congress.
Following McFarlane, Poindexter resigned in 1986 after just 356 days as national security adviser, marking one of the shortest stints in the position. He was also convicted in connection with the scandal, but the convictions were reversed on appeal.
Others have had more success. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all had national security advisers who served three years or more. Compared to some of their predecessors, they were generally scandal-free.
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and the elder Bush, is often referred to as the “gold standard” for the position. As The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung reported in 2015, Scowcroft is renowned for running a tight ship and keeping a low profile.
“Somehow he managed to get the difficult balance right: representing the view of others, ensuring due process, and providing honest and wise counsel to the President,” Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass wrote of Scowcroft in 2012. “I used to tease him that was only because he got to do the job for two different Presidents and had the chance to learn from his own mistakes. The real reason, though, is that Brent brought to the job both strength of character and strength of intellect.”
It’s unlikely anyone will say the same of Flynn, despite his decorated career in public service. Flynn claimed not to have discussed U.S. sanctions against Moscow with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, leading the Trump administrations to falsely defend his actions. Pressure on Flynn boiled over Monday after The Post reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House that Flynn had mischaracterized his communications with Kislyak to such a degree that he might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
The full impact of Flynn’s resignation isn’t clear and probably won’t be for a while. But history has not been kind to those who have exited his position in disgrace.