Alex Acosta resigned as labor secretary on Friday, bringing his tenure in President Trump’s Cabinet to an abrupt end under far less than ideal circumstances.
He can take a number.
Acosta’s exit, which came amid questions about his decision as a federal prosecutor in 2007 to give Jeffrey Epstein a plea deal, makes him merely the latest secretary to depart with a cloud hanging over him.
In fact, of the eight Cabinet secretaries who have left the administration directly from their posts, all eight exited amid some kind of scandal or discord with Trump. And that doesn’t include former acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan, who resigned recently amid questions about domestic violence incidents in his family’s past.
The only secretary to leave their post somewhat unscathed under Trump was John Kelly, who served a brief tenure as homeland security secretary before becoming Trump’s chief of staff in 2017. But even he had his moments.
Along with Acosta, those departing with something amounting to a scandal looming over them include former veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin, former health and human services secretary Tom Price and former interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who all faced investigations and/or rebukes involving their official travel. (Zinke also faced questions about a real estate deal in his home state of Montana.) If we include Cabinet-level officials, you can include former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned amid scandal involving both his ethics and his management of the agency.
The others were effectively forced out amid disagreements with Trump — disagreements that often boiled over into public view:
- Rex Tillerson was fired as secretary of state via a tweet and later criticized Trump as “undisciplined” and said he “doesn’t like to read.” (Trump retorted by calling Tillerson “dumb as a rock.”)
- Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to abruptly resign as homeland security secretary after a surge in illegal immigration and controversy over a family separation policy that she oversaw
- Jeff Sessions resigned as attorney general after months and months of abuse by Trump, who criticized him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and not investigating Trump’s opponents
- Jim Mattis resigned as defense secretary after a clash with Trump over the president’s plans to withdraw from Syria.
In fact, to find a top official who has left the administration without some kind of controversy and with their relationship with Trump intact, you have to go down to Cabinet-level jobs: former small business administrator Linda McMahon and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley (whose job, notably, ceased to be a Cabinet-level post after she left). Former CIA director Mike Pompeo, whose job was Cabinet-level but not official a Cabinet post, became secretary of state after Tillerson.
And in fact, Acosta isn’t even Trump’s first labor secretary pick to bow out amid controversy. His original pick to head the department, Andy Puzder, withdrew amid GOP concerns that he employed an undocumented housekeeper.
It is all enough to make you wonder: Who’s willing to sign up to be the next Trump Cabinet secretary?