President Trump with outgoing Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta outside the White House on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

“We have to get the best people,” candidate Donald Trump said in 2016 when asked how he’d go about staffing his administration. “We need to get the best and the finest, and if we don’t we’ll be in trouble for a long period of time, and maybe never come out of it.”

Yet, as president, Trump has assembled an administration of the sinister, the corrupt, and the incompetent — without doubt the most poorly staffed administration in modern history, by any measure you could devise.

And now yet another high-ranking official is on his way out:

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned Friday amid intense scrutiny of his role as a U.S. attorney a decade ago in a deal with Jeffrey Epstein that allowed the financier to plead guilty to lesser offenses in a sex-crimes case.

President Trump told reporters Friday morning that Acosta had decided to step aside. He called Acosta a “great labor secretary, not a good one” and a “tremendous talent.”

“This was him, not me,” Trump said of the resignation decision, as Acosta stood by his side. “I said to Alex, you don’t have to do this.”

Yeah, right.

We all know why Acosta resigned: He had become an embarrassment to the president. I doubt Trump had any idea whether the labor secretary was doing a good job or not, though of late, Acosta had been under siege from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who apparently felt Acosta was insufficiently vigorous in crushing the rights of working people and advancing corporate interests.

Let me go out on a limb here and say that Trump never cared whether Acosta gave the monstrous Jeffrey Epstein a sweetheart deal more than a decade ago. Trump is an advocate of both special privileges being accorded to the wealthy (including the ability to ignore any laws they find inconvenient), and the right of powerful men to abuse women if that is what they would like to do.

I even doubt that Trump is disturbed by Epstein’s attraction to pubescent girls; we’re talking about someone who reportedly burst into dressing rooms so he could watch teenage girls undress, and who upon meeting young girls would regularly say, “In a few years, I’ll be dating her!”

As Trump himself said about Epstein, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. . . . He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

So, no, that wasn’t what bothered Trump. It was just inconvenient for him that the new charges against Epstein cast a light on the deal Acosta gave him, and with more shocking details about Epstein being revealed each day, the attention on Acosta wouldn’t move on. As the leader of one of the many departments the president couldn’t care less about, Acosta’s only real job requirement was to not reflect poorly on Trump and, in this, he was failing.

But let’s take a moment to appreciate what a personnel catastrophe this administration has been. According to the Brookings Institution, the turnover in the Trump administration is unprecedented in recent presidential history; fully three-fourths of the top positions are no longer held by the person who was there at the start of Trump’s presidency. Here’s a partial list of high-ranking Trump officials who have departed in some manner of scandal or shame, in no particular order:

  • Michael Flynn, national security adviser (pleaded guilty to crimes)
  • Sean Spicer, press secretary (terrible liar, became object of universal ridicule)
  • Anthony Scaramucci, communications director (lasted 10 days)
  • Stephen K. Bannon, chief strategist (fired in White House shakeup)
  • Tom Price, secretary of health and human services (had a taste for private jets)
  • Rex Tillerson, secretary of state (was reportedly overheard calling Trump a “f---ing moron”)
  • Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (bought and sold tobacco stocks while leading one of America’s chief health agencies)
  • Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator (too many scandals to detail)
  • Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior (multiple mini-scandals)
  • Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security (combination of malice and incompetence)
  • Patrick Shanahan, acting secretary of defense (bizarre domestic violence story)
  • David Shulkin, secretary of veterans affairs (had government pay for European vacation)
  • Rob Porter, White House staff secretary (accused of domestic abuse by both his ex-wives)
  • David Sorensen, speechwriter (accused of domestic abuse by ex-wife)
  • John McEntee, president’s body man (lost security clearance because of an alleged gambling problem)

That’s not even counting the bizarre mid-level figures such as reality TV personality Omarosa Manigault Newman or crypto-fascist halfwit Sebastian Gorka; nor those such as Andrew Puzder or Herman Cain, who were so controversial they never got the jobs they were appointed to or floated for; nor the corrupt ones, such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who are still hanging on to their positions.

In short, despite having enabled an accused serial child rapist with dozens of victims to skate away from responsibility for his crimes, Acosta may actually have been one of the better Trump appointees. That’s what a disaster this administration has been.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The Jeffrey Epstein charges raise grave questions about Alexander Acosta

Helaine Olen: What Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes say about our era

Jennifer Rubin: Women see a familiar, ghastly pattern in the Trump White House

Kathleen Parker: One thing is clear from the Jeffrey Epstein revelations: Acosta must step down