If you’re looking for a summer project and you like government, then it’s worthwhile to see how many cabinet appointments of the past five presidents have resigned or been fired for incompetence, abuse of power or disagreements with the boss. You don’t have to take too long to guess which president has had more resignations or firings than any of them. It’s President Trump by a landslide.
Trump definitely fits that mold in the public eye, because he became famous for his TV show “The Apprentice,” in which he regularly uttered those anticipated words, “You’re fired.” Other presidents have had to fire cabinet members or accept their resignations, but none comes close to the three-year history of the Trump administration.
By any measure, President George H.W. Bush had the least controversy during his tenure. He had only two incidents requiring a departure. His secretary of education, Lauro Cavazos, was forced to resign because he allegedly used his governmental frequent flyer miles for his wife’s personal travel, which was a violation of federal ethics rules. And White House Chief of Staff John Sununu was forced out of for things like using $615,000 worth of military jet travel for personal trips. In one case, he used a government limousine to travel to a rare stamp auction in New York City. Sununu paid back $47,000, with help from the Republican Party.
President Bill Clinton comes in a distant second to Trump, with six resignations during his time in office. They were due to misuse of classified information (John Deutch), mishandling of a spy case (R. James Woolsey Jr.), action in Somalia that caused U.S. military deaths (Leslie Aspin), payments to a former mistress (Henry Cisneros), acceptance of gifts (Mike Espy) and excess spending and abuse of federal funds (Hazel R. O’Leary). Many of these unhappy endings mirror missteps that go back as far as President Dwight Eisenhower.
President George W. Bush comes in third, with five departures during his tenure. CIA Director George Tenet threw in the towel because of his many issues, including assuring the nation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which he called a “slam dunk,” and his approval of the extensive use of waterboarding of captured prisoners. Treasury Secretary John H. Snow had conflicts of interest, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was charged with bad military planning. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lost the confidence of everybody in the federal government.
President Barack Obama came in second to last, with three resignations involving improper handling of campaign money and misuse of a private email account.
Trump tops the field, with 16 resignations. He has heralded many of his appointments as being the best people ever to serve in government, but a number of them lost his confidence in a short time because they didn’t agree with his policies. Among them were Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster and Kirstjen Nielsen.
As you go down the list of resignations, the back stories are much juicier. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was facing several federal probes into the potential misuse of government resources for private purposes. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price spent more than $1 million in department funds on travel on private jets, with no effort to use public transportation. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan faced allegations of domestic violence.
Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was one of Trump’s top headaches. His mistakes included no-bid contracts for outside vendors, special favors to family members, unauthorized hiring of staff and other transgressions. But by any measure, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn wins the prize for his secret lobbying work for Turkey and unreported interactions with the Russian government. His tenure was the shortest in the 63-year history of the office.
Trump still has 17 months in office to add to the list of officials who either have broken the law or fell out of his favor. But unlike “The Apprentice,” Washington isn’t a TV show. The public puts its faith in the person who holds the highest office. Winning the which-president-has-had-the-most-turmoil award is hardly an accomplishment to brag about.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.