Verify: Is President Trump's staff turnover unusual?

You've been asking us to Verify whether the national media chatter about high-level departures in the Trump administration are really so unusual.

VERIFY – YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE’LL FIND ANSWERS

A 9NEWS project to make sure what you’ve heard is true, accurate, verified. Want us to verify something for you? Email verify@9news.com

THE QUESTION

Seven months in to President Donald Trump’s presidency and there are already seven departures from high-ranking officials.

Viewer Mark DeVries asked 9NEWS to verify whether that’s an unusually high number. He wanted to know whether any other president lost or fired that many high-level people this quickly?

WHAT WE FOUND

For answers, we built a series of spreadsheets for every president going back to President Jimmy Carter. These lists included all their cabinet secretaries, agency heads and high-ranking White House Staff like press secretaries and chief of staffs.

To determine turnover, we didn’t include people who left for other positions within the administration, people who died in office and agency heads whose terms expired.

The Verify team also talked to University of Minnesota political professor Eric Ostermeier. He studies presidential cabinets and even built a database going back to the early 1900s.

Here’s what we found:

Seven people either resigned or were fired by the Trump administration so far.

1) National Security Advisor Michael Flynn served 24 days
2) Acting Attorney General Sally Yates served 10 days
3) Communications Director Mike Dubke served 88 days
4) FBI Director James Comey served 109 days
5) Press Secretary Sean Spicer served 182 days
6) Chief of Staff Reince Priebus served 189 days
7) Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci served 10 days

When you compare that list to the first years of the previous six presidents, Trump is an outlier.

Only Presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan lost anyone -- one communications director apiece -- in their first full years in office.

But what about other years of their presidencies?

There are a couple of situations where you see as much turnover as the Trump administration. The first is after a president wins re-election. Presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama saw greater turnover than Trump in the years after they won a second term.

The other two situations where presidents experienced a cluster of high level turnovers were administrative scandals or turmoil.

Reagan lost seven people in 1987. That’s the year Congress opened its investigation into Iran-Contra, a scandal involving the sale of weapons to Iran and the transfer of money to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Carter famously fired five of his cabinet secretaries in one sitting. He was trying to prove his commitment to resetting his administration, but people saw it as chaotic. Political historians believe this is part of the reason he lost to Reagan in 1980.

Ostermeier did know of a president who turned over a significant number of people during his first year in office: President John Tyler.

Tyler became president when President William Henry Harrison died in 1841, a few months into his first term.

“Harrison’s cabinet heads did not embrace him and within a half-year five were gone,” Ostermeier said. “Tyler’s cabinet continued to be chaotic throughout his nearly four years as president with multiple changes taking place in each position.”

And Presidents Andrew Jackson and Ulysses Grant both suffered substantial turnover following scandals within their administrations.

BOTTOM LINE:

Trump’s administration has seen substantially more turnover in its first year than other U.S. presidents in modern history. But it’s not an unusual amount of turnover for a president in the midst of a troubled period in his administration. 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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