From Mattis to McMaster: 26 senior officials who departed the Trump admin in 2018
It’s a phrase that describes the fate of at least 10 senior officials to depart his administration in 2018.
Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and attorney general Jeff Sessions were two of the most high-profile officials to be handed pink slips by the president.
There were also around two dozen resignations.
Some, such as former defense secretary James Mattis, resigned due to irreconcilable differences with the president on policy matters. Others, like former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, resigned but are widely believed to have been forced out.
Nearly one-third of the departures took place or were announced in the month of March.
Many of them concerned high-profile, high-visibility positions. Tillerson and FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe were fired, but not before being publicly berated by the president.
Twenty-nine-year-old White House communications director Hope Hicks also quit in March, a day after admitting to a House panel investigating Russian collusion that she sometimes told “white lies” at the president’s behest.
In all, the Trump administration averaged just over two departures of senior officials a month.
Here’s a look at the firings and resignations of senior Trump cabinet members and White House officials in 2018, in chronological order:
Carl Higbie — chief of external affairs, Corporation for National and Community Service
Carl Higbie, a former NAVY Seal, resigned on Jan. 18 after it was revealed that he made several remarks disparaging black people, immigrants and LGBTQ people.
“Go back to your Muslim s—hole and go crap in your hands and bang little boys on Thursday nights,” Higbie said in June 2013 on an online radio show that he hosted. “I just don’t like Muslim people. People always rip me a new one for that. ‘Carl, you’re racist, you can’t, you’re sexist.’ I’m like Jesus Christ. I just don’t like Muslim people because their ideology sucks.”
He also commented that black people have “lax morals” and that black women think “breeding is a form of government employment.”
Higbie also slammed Rhode Island lawmakers for approving same-sex marriage, accusing them of “breaking the moral fibre of our country,” and said he would gladly volunteer to stand at the U.S. border to shoot undocumented immigrants “in the face.”
The Iraq War veteran said he regretted the remarks, which he stated “do not reflect who I am or what I stand for,” and claimed that resigned so as to not distract from Trump’s agenda.
Brenda Fitzgerald — director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned from her position as the top public health official in the U.S. over conflicts of interest spawned by her financial investments in tobacco and pharmaceutical stocks.
An obstetrician-gynecologist who served in the U.S. Air Force and campaigned twice, unsuccessfully, as a Republican candidate for Congress in the 1990s, Fitzgerald also held long-term investments in an electronic medical records company as well as a biotech startup specializing in early cancer detection.
In an ethics agreement, Fitzgerald said she would not participate in issues that might affect those companies.
However, the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that Fitzgerald’s financial investments presented conflicts that made it difficult for her to do her job fairly. She resigned Jan. 31.
Rob Porter — White House staff secretary
Rob Porter resigned in Feb. 7 amid allegations that he physically abused his two ex-wives and a former girlfriend.
White House officials claimed that they only learned of the full extent of accusations against Porter when they were published by the Daily Mail. But the FBI said it flagged “derogatory information” about Porter to White House counsel Don McGahn as far back as March 2017.
WATCH: New questions arise over timeline of Rob Porter’s exit from White House
Porter denied the allegations and was given words of support from Trump on his way out of the White House.
“We wish him well, he worked very hard… he did a very good job when he was in the White House,” Trump said. “He also — as you probably know — says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that.”
David Sorensen — White House speechwriter
Two days after Porter’s resignation amid domestic abuse allegations, White House speechwriter David Sorensen handed in his resignation under a similar cloud.
A speechwriter with the White House’s Council on Environment Quality, Sorensen resigned after media reports detailing allegations from his ex-wife, who accused him of domestic abuse.
Like Porter, Sorensen denied the allegations.
Rachel Brand — associate attorney general
Rachel Brand resigned from her position as the No. 3 official at the Justice Department to take a job with Walmart as the retail corporation’s legal boss.
Brand, who served on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board for five years after being appointed by then-president Barack Obama, had been poised to potentially assume a key role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
As associate attorney general, Brand would have taken over the job of overseeing Mueller’s investigation if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were fired.
Brand was also known for pushing Congress to renew a surveillance program that gives the U.S. government authority to spy on foreigners abroad.
Gary Cohn — director, National Economic Council
Gary Cohn stepped down as Trump’s top economic adviser amid disagreements with Trump’s move to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminum.
The former Goldman Sachs exec had even set up a meeting with companies that use steel and aluminum to try and dissuade Trump from the tariffs, only for the president to cancel the meeting, CNBC reported, citing an Axios reporter.
WATCH: Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn resigns
Cohn also had reported disagreements with Trump over matters beyond the economic, telling the Financial Times he came close to resigning over Trump’s response to violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
Rick Dearborn — White House deputy chief of staff
As deputy chief of staff, Rick Dearborn had oversight over political operations, public outreach and legislative affairs. He vacated the position in mid-March and became a partner at Cypress Group, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Prior to taking up that position, he served as chief of staff for former senator Jeff Sessions for 12 years until Sessions was named Trump’s attorney general.
CNN reported that Dearborn’s departure was an example of the diminishing influence of Sessions, who would go on to be fired in November 2018.
Andrew McCabe — FBI deputy director
A frequent target of Trump’s ire, Andrew McCabe was fired as FBI deputy director only 26 hours before he was scheduled to retire.
In explaining the March 16 firing, then-attorney general Sessions cited an inspector general’s report saying that McCabe was not forthcoming about a conversation between a journalist and FBI officials, which he authorized, and that he lied to or misled federal investigators under oath.
WATCH: Ex-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe shares notes about Trump with Robert Mueller after firing
Trump proclaimed on Twitter that McCabe’s firing was “a great day for the hardworking men and women of the FBI,” saying that McCabe “knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
H.R. McMaster — national security adviser
H.R. McMaster’s resignation was announced March 22 following weeks of rumours about his impending departure.
It came after a White House leak that revealed Trump was urged in briefing documents not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election win. Trump did it anyway.
A three-star general respected as one of the top military thinkers in the U.S., McMaster frequently clashed with Trump on policy, and the pair never formed a close personal bond.
He was replaced by John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk and one of the most divisive foreign policy officials to serve as UN ambassador.
David Shulkin — Veterans Affairs secretary
David Shulkin departed his position on March 28. He said he was fired, contradicting the White House, which said in a statement that he resigned.
The first non-veteran ever to head the Veterans Affairs department, Shulkin was dogged by an inspector general report accusing him of misusing travel funds for a trip to Europe which was largely personal rather than business. The report said Shulkin’s chief of staff altered an email so the government would pay his wife’s travel expenses.
Shulkin blamed a power struggle at the VA for his departure.
Hope Hicks — White House communications director
Trump’s trusted gatekeeper to the press, Hope Hicks resigned March 29, a day after she was interviewed for nine hours by a House panel investigating contact between the Trump campaign and Russia.
During the interview, Hicks acknowledged that she had occasionally told “white lies” for Trump but said she hadn’t lied about anything relevant to the Russia investigation.
A former Ralph Lauren fashion model and public relations professional who worked for Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Hicks had no political background when she was asked in 2015 to serve as Trump’s press secretary for his campaign. She was 26 at the time.
She is set to take over as chief communications officer at Fox, the company being spun off from 21st Century Fox’s merger with Walt Disney Co. in 2019.
Rex Tillerson — secretary of state
Tillerson left his position as CEO of energy giant ExxonMobil to become the U.S. secretary of state, only to be fired via Twitter just over a year later.
Tillerson repeatedly clashed with Trump and White House staff on an array of issues including Russian election meddling.
In October, NBC reported that Tillerson called Trump a moron, something that Tillerson never outright denied.
He was let go March 13, having learned of his firing via Trump’s Twitter feed hours before the president called him to inform him of his dismissal.
Tillerson broke his silence on his tenure at the White House in December, saying that Trump was “pretty undisciplined,” didn’t like to consider the details involved in decision-making and would get frustrated when told that actions he wanted to take would violate the law.
WATCH: Tillerson slams ‘undisciplined’ Trump in wide-ranging interview
Michael Anton — National Security Council spokesman
Michael Anton was hired by Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who resigned less than a month into the job.
Anton remained the council’s spokesperson under Flynn’s successor H.R. McMaster, but was pushed out of the White House on April 8, following McMaster’s departure and replacement by John Bolton.
Thomas Bossert — homeland security adviser
Like Anton, Thomas Bossert was also seen to have been pushed out by John Bolton.
Sources familiar with Bossert’s April 10 departure told the Associated Press that Bolton didn’t have a personal problem with Bossert, but rather wanted to put his own team in place.
Bossert was an alumnus of former president George W. Bush’s administration and was well-liked by most White House officials, with his sudden departure described as “incredibly jarring.”
His most prominent role at the White House came after a series of devastating hurricanes hit several U.S. states and Puerto Rico in fall 2017, when he served as the White House’s point person for the emergency response and rebuilding efforts.
He also headed the administration’s cybersecurity efforts, including its response to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Nadia Schadlow — deputy national security adviser for strategy
Nadia Schadlow resigned April 11 amid the arrival of new national security adviser John Bolton.
She was a confidante of ex-national security adviser H.R. McMaster and oversaw the president’s first National Security Strategy document.
Ricky Waddell — deputy national security adviser
Ricky Waddell resigned on April 12, becoming the fourth national security official to depart the White House amid John Bolton’s shakeup of the national security apparatus.
His departure was widely expected following those of Anton, Bossert and Schadlow.
Joe Hagin — deputy chief of staff
Joe Hagin, a veteran White House staffer who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, resigned in June.
Trump reserved effusive praise for Hagin, who co-ordinated the logistics of Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“He planned and executed the longest and one of the most historic foreign trips ever made by a president and he did it all perfectly,” Trump said.
Hagin’s departure had long been expected as he had committed initially to working for Trump for one year but ended up staying for 18 months.
Scott Pruitt — Environmental Protection Agency
Scott Pruitt’s resignation was announced July 5 amid ethics investigations into excessive security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease, which were among the scandals that spawned over a dozen federal and congressional investigations.
Pruitt was pressured to tender his resignation amid the scandals, a senior Trump administration official told the Associated Press.
A former Oklahoma attorney general close to the oil and gas industry, Pruitt had filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the agency he was picked to lead.
A vocal climate science skeptic and critic of the Paris climate pact, Pruitt worked relentlessly to dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations that aimed to reduce toxic pollution and planet-warming carbon emissions.
WATCH: Woman confronts embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt at a Washington restaurant
His departure was hailed by environmental activists, with the Citizens Campaign for the Environment saying Pruitt was “the worst EPA administrator in American history.”
Don McGahn — White House counsel
An experienced election lawyer who served as general counsel in Trump’s election campaign, Don McGahn played a key role in helping Trump remake the judiciary with young, conservative judges like Brett Kavanaugh.
However, he also played a key role in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, co-operating extensively with the special counsel and submitting to hours of interviews.
Trump announced McGahn’s departure on Twitter in late August, less than two weeks after the New York Times reported on McGahn’s co-operation with the special counsel’s probe. McGahn reportedly found out about his departure via Trump’s tweet.
But the president said he bore no ill will towards McGahn, saying he “allowed him” to testify because he had nothing to hide. Trump also insisted that McGahn was no “John Dean-type RAT” — a reference to the White House lawyer who turned on former president Richard Nixon amid the Watergate scandal.
Nikki Haley — UN ambassador
Nikki Haley resigned as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, with Trump saying that Haley notified him of her intention to depart the administration six months prior because she wanted to take some time off.
The announcement of Haley’s resignation was marked by effusive praise and platitudes from Trump, who told Haley that she did a “fantastic job” and that she was welcome to rejoin his administration in any other capacity in the future.
WATCH: President Trump announces resignation of Nikki Haley as UN ambassador
Haley had been open about not always agreeing with Trump, writing in an op-ed for the Washington Post that she often differed on policy matters with the president but held great pride in serving in his administration.
Among Haley’s final acts was trying to explain why Trump was laughed at during his speech to the UN General Assembly in September. She said the laughter was not a case of diplomats and world leaders laughing at Trump but rather them showing that they “loved his honesty.”
Jeff Sessions — attorney general
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired in November, immediately after the U.S. midterm elections handed control of the House of Representatives to Democrats.
Sessions’ departure was the culmination of an openly toxic relationship that began to fray mere weeks into his tenure when he recused himself from the investigation into possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
WATCH: Democrats demand answers about Jeff Sessions’ resignation
Trump blamed Sessions’ recusal for opening the door to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, with Mueller looking into whether Trump’s pressuring of Sessions was part of a campaign to obstruct justice and stymie the probe.
Sessions’ departure came as no surprise, being made official just weeks after Trump said “I don’t have an attorney general.” Trump also commented that Sessions was making him “so sad” and that he was unhappy with the former Alabama attorney general’s performance on a host of issues including “the border.”
Mira Ricardel — deputy national security adviser
A former Commerce Department official who was hand-picked by national security adviser John Bolton, deputy national security adviser Ricardel was forced out following a feud with Trump — not President Donald Trump, but his wife, first lady Melania Trump.
Ricardel was reported to have run afoul of Melania and her staff during negotiations over the first lady’s trip to Africa in October and her use of government resources for the trip.
In mid-November, Melania’s spokesperson released an extraordinary public statement about Ricardel, stating that it was the first lady’s position that Ricardel “no longer deserves the honour of serving in this White House.”
Ricardel was gone from the White House a day later.
John Kelly — White House chief of staff
John Kelly’s departure from his post as White House chief of staff was announced by Trump in early December following weeks of rumours that he was no longer on speaking terms with the president.
A retired general and former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly had been chief of staff since July 2017, when he replaced Reince Priebus.
He was credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing, but his iron-fisted approach reportedly alienated some longtime Trump allies, and he grew increasingly isolated.
Over time, Kelly’s influence in the White House reportedly diminished to the point that Trump began making several key decisions without consulting him.
Nick Ayers — chief of staff to the vice-president
Trump had hoped that the void left by Kelly’s departure would be filled by Nick Ayers, a longtime aide of Vice-President Mike Pence who served as Pence’s chief of staff.
Trump is said to have warmed to Ayers in part by watching the effectiveness of Pence’s largely independent political operation, with Ayers also earning the backing of Ivanka Trump and her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner.
However, Ayers declined the offer and said that he would leave the administration at the end of the year and return to his home state of Georgia with his family.
WATCH: Several candidates being considered after Trump’s top pick for chief of staff turns down job
Ayers said in a tweet that while he was leaving the White House, he would continue to “work with the
#MAGA team to advance the cause.”
Ryan Zinke — secretary of interior
Ryan Zinke resigned in December amid scrutiny over his use of his position for personal gain.
The Interior Department watchdog initiated at least seven ethics investigations against Zinke, which looked into matters including his department’s handling of a casino project in Connecticut and conversations between Zinke and Halliburton chairman David Lesar about a land development project in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont.
A former Navy SEAL and Montana congressman, Zinke became the face of the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks and its championing of American energy dominance, as he helped Trump shrink Obama-era designations that restricted energy development activities on tracts of land that had been designated national monuments.
Environmental groups applauded his departure, with the Friends of the Earth environmental network expressing relief that “Zinke’s days of plundering our lands and enriching himself and his friends are over.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t hold back, saying in a statement that Zinke was “one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment” and opining that “the swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.”
James Mattis — secretary of defense
Mattis resigned on Dec. 20, a day after Trump announced the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, to which Mattis was opposed.
In his resignation letter, Mattis implicitly rebuked Trump’s disregard for foreign allies and suggested that his worldview was threatening the global order built by the U.S. Trump responded by ordering Mattis fired by Jan. 1, two months before the Feb. 28 date that Mattis had set for his departure.
WATCH: Several U.S. commanders outraged by Syria withdrawal according to sources
“Mad Dog” Mattis, as he was known in military circles, served as the head of U.S. Central Command under former president Obama, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.
His appointment as the Pentagon’s top civilian leader was hailed by many lawmakers and foreign policy experts who hoped that he would bring experience and reason to an administration lacking officials with high-level experience in national security.
As of Dec. 30, Mattis was the last major departure from the Trump administration, despite rumours that Trump was considering firing Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell over objections to interest rate hikes.
— With files from the Associated Press
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