More White House departures could be coming — here's who to watch

Key Points
  • Trump has parted with more top-level staff in his first year than any of his five most recent predecessors did in their respective first years.
  • In recent weeks, the flurry of high-profile firings and resignations appears to have gained momentum.
  • News reports, as well as statements from Trump himself, heavily suggest more officials could be leaving the administration in short order.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks to employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., March 6, 2017.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

The Trump administration is snipping away at loose ends — and more cuts could be coming.

In his first year as president, Donald Trump parted with top-level staff at a higher rate than his five most recent predecessors, according to a recent study.

Within Trump's first 12 months in the White House he lost Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, national security advisor Michael Flynn, senior advisor Steve Bannon and press secretary Sean Spicer, to name a few.

In recent weeks, the flurry of high-profile firings and resignations appears to have gained momentum. Since February alone, Trump's top diplomat, top economic advisor, staff secretary, communications director and personal assistant have exited his administration.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's dismissal on Tuesday came as a surprise even to Tillerson himself, according to a statement from a State Department spokesman who was fired the same day by the White House for reportedly contradicting the official message.

But they may not be the last shoes to drop, as recent news reports portray a White House in disarray. 

Haberman tweet:  People close to the White House say they expect more major personnel shifts this week. An effort to rip off the bandaid fast on a number of fronts is likely.

Even the president implied that further staff changes could be forthcoming. Following the revelation of Tillerson's removal on Tuesday, Trump told reporters outside the White House: "We're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want."

Here's a list of Trump administration officials to keep an eye on:

David Shulkin

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin talks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House May 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images

Despite running the Department of Veteran Affairs for nearly the whole of Trump's presidency, Secretary David Shulkin has managed to keep a much lower profile than many of his colleagues. A bombshell report from The Washington Post last week, however, revealed that Shulkin has shied away from his senior staff as much as he has from the press.

The Post, citing interviews with 16 administration officials and other observers, reported that Shulkin has distanced himself from his senior management team over perceived threats to his tenure. Mistrust runs so high that his office in Washington is now protected by an armed guard, the Post reported.

In February, Shulkin was pilloried by an inspector general's report for accepting tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and allowing his wife to fly with him to Europe using taxpayer money.

Trump is considering replacing Shulkin with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Shulkin also happens to be the only member of Trump's Cabinet who was originally an appointee of the Obama administration — a circumstance that has not worked in the favor of other former Trump staff.

Ben Carson

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks to employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., March 6, 2017.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

For weeks, Ben Carson's role as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development has been engulfed in scandal over renovations to the executive dining room in HUD's Washington office that included the planned purchase of $31,000 in hardwood furniture.

When reports of the exorbitantly priced dining set — well above the legal maximum of $5,000 — first emerged, a HUD spokesman said Carson played no role in ordering the dining room set and was unaware of it at the time.

But a trove of new emails show that Carson's wife, Candy, was involved in selecting the new furniture. Furthermore, some of the emails show Carson himself may have helped pick out the new set, CNN reported.

On Wednesday, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told CNBC: "When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles."

H.R. McMaster

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster
Getty Images

In early March, NBC News reported that the White House was preparing for national security advisor H.R. McMaster's imminent resignation, which could be coming as soon as April. 

McMaster, a retired Army general and author of "Dereliction of Duty," the much-heralded analysis of U.S. military strategy during the Vietnam War, joined the Trump administration in February 2017. He replaced Michael Flynn, who the White House said was fired after he allegedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

McMaster is often viewed as a moderating influence against the more hawkish military voices near Trump. But Tillerson's firing and national economic advisor Gary Cohn's departure could indicate that Trump is becoming further influenced by the anti-establishment wing of his Cabinet, which would pose a threat to McMaster's tenure. 

Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of Trump's earliest supporters during the 2016 campaign, has distinguished himself from the rest of the administration as the president's favorite whipping boy on Twitter:

Trump tweet  Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!

Trump tweet  Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren't they the subject of the investigation? Why didn't Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren't Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!

Trump tweet  Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!

Trump tweet  Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got....

The public floggings largely stem from Sessions' recusal from all matters relating to the DOJ's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

Trump has repeatedly described special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which has levied charges against nearly 20 individuals and secured five guilty pleas, as a "witch hunt." Sessions' recusal put the power over the investigation in the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller.

Last July, NBC reported that Trump was considering replacing Sessions with Texas Sen.  or even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

So far, however, Sessions has weathered Trump's attacks and held on to his job.

John Kelly

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks about border security during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, May 2, 2017.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

Retired Gen. John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff in July 2017.

He joined the White House shortly before Trump's infamous comments after white supremacist protesters clashed with activists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which the president said that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the issue.

When Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson criticized Trump over a phone call she overheard between the president and a Gold Star widow, Kelly misrepresented her track record in Congress in an attack from the White House briefing room. 

More recently, Kelly came under fire for his changing explanations in the wake of spousal abuse allegations calling into question former staff secretary Rob Porter's security clearance. He claimed to be "shocked" by a report in the Daily Mail revealing the allegations. 

But FBI Director Christopher Wray later testified that the agency had sent reports on Porter to the White House for review months before the tabloid's interviews were published. Politico reported in February that Kelly knew for weeks that Porter would never receive permanent clearance.

The White House has denied that Kelly's job is on the line.