Over the course of the past few days, a number of rumors have emerged about other imminent firings or resignations within the administration. They’re outlined below, with an assessment of how unusual the resignation or firing would be at this early point in an administration.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Why a firing may be imminent: Do you follow the president on Twitter?
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Trump first made it obvious that he was irritated with his attorney general. Some assumed that Sessions would resign, having obviously lost the confidence of his boss. He didn’t.
Since then, The Post has reported that Trump is looking to fire Sessions, perhaps to replace him with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. On Tuesday morning, Trump continued to berate Sessions on Twitter, blaming his attorney general explicitly for failing to prosecute Hillary Clinton for unspecified or inapplicable crimes.
Trump’s rationale for firing Sessions is simple: He thinks that Sessions should not have recused himself from the Russia investigation (a recusal that seems more unavoidable following a recent Post report about Sessions’s interactions with the Russian ambassador). The president clearly wants someone in the position who can and would fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III if Trump desires.
How unusual would a firing be at this point? Very.
First of all, it’s very infrequent for an attorney general to serve less than a year unless his term ends with the inauguration of a new president. (That includes Wayne MacVeagh, who served for part of 1881 until the assassination of President James A. Garfield.) The most recent non-acting attorney general to serve less than a year was Elliot Richardson — who resigned rather than fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
The last time an attorney general was fired was Howard McGrath, who was fired by President Harry S. Truman in 1952. He was fired after he terminated his own special assistant for aggressively investigating corruption in the Justice Department.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Why a resignation may be imminent: CNN reported over the weekend that sources familiar with Tillerson noticed an increased frustration from the secretary.
“Both [sources] said there was a noticeable increase in the secretary’s frustration and his doubts that the tug-of-war with the White House would subside anytime soon,” John King reported. But, he added, the sources acknowledged that Tillerson may simply have been “venting.”
In June, reports emerged of a showdown in the White House between Tillerson and the administration official in charge of personnel who he blamed for spiking proposed State Department nominees.
Why it may not: A spokesman for Tillerson told radio host Hugh Hewitt that Tillerson was committed to remaining in the position.
How unusual would a resignation be at this point? If Tillerson were to step down soon, he’d become the first secretary of state to be appointed and resign within a year since Robert Bacon, who served for only 37 days in 1909. In recent history, it would be the shortest tenure for a president’s first secretary of state since the resignation of Alexander Haig in 1982.
If Trump were to fire Tillerson, for whatever reason, that wouldn’t be unique, either. Timothy Pickering was fired as secretary of state by President John Adams in 1800, after refusing to resign. (A requested resignation is generally the path Cabinet firings take.)
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
Why a resignation or firing may be imminent: When Trump tapped Anthony Scaramucci to lead the White House communications shop last week, it came over the reported objections of a number of senior officials, including Priebus. In short order, Politico reported a very good reason for Priebus to not want Scaramucci in the West Wing: Trump might be looking to move his new hire into Priebus’s job.
“One White House official and two outside advisers said that while Scaramucci was brought into the White House for the communications job, he’s considered an internal candidate to eventually succeed Priebus as chief of staff,” Politico’s Tara Palmeri reported.
After Scaramucci threatened over the weekend to oust staffers he believed to be leaking to the press, a report Tuesday suggested that his purge had begun with Michael Short, an assistant press secretary who came to the White House from the Republican National Committee along with Priebus and Sean Spicer, the press secretary who resigned last week.
How unusual would a resignation or firing be at this point? Turnover in the chief of staff position is less unusual than for the Cabinet positions discussed above. Barack Obama had four chiefs of staff over the course of his eight years in office, as did Bill Clinton. Granted, no chief of staff has been ousted in the first year of a president’s first term since the position was created under Harry Truman, but it’s not unusual for presidents to replace the person holding that position.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster
Why a resignation or firing may be imminent: Tension between McMaster and Trump has been reported for months but was amplified after two recent conflicts.
The first was frustration McMaster expressed to American allies about Trump’s handling of his interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent Group of 20 summit, as reported by the Associated Press. The second, Trump’s rejection of a plan for new troop deployment to Afghanistan that was interpreted as a “striking vote of no-confidence” in McMaster by people who spoke with Politico’s Susan Glasser.
White House officials claim that McMaster is the target of aides who want to see him gone. “The president would like the leaking to stop about getting rid of McMaster,” Scaramucci told Politico.
How unusual would a resignation or firing be at this point? The last time a national security adviser resigned or was fired in the first year of a president’s first term was … in February, when Michael Flynn resigned. Ronald Reagan had a total of six people in that position, but the first, Richard Allen, didn’t resign until the second year of Reagan’s term.
It’s certainly true that a lot of this rumor-mongering stems less from imminent demands made by the president and more from a White House that is rife with leaks and a lack of loyalty. But even if these four officials stay in place, the turnover to date prompts another question: How unusual is this level of tension and turmoil in an administration that’s only six months old?
That’s easy to answer. Very.