The White House is preparing for a mass “exodus” of staff members, including those holding senior leadership positions, according to a stunning CNN report Tuesday. So concerned are they about the coming wave of departures that Chief of Staff John Kelly has set a deadline for all administration personnel to submit their plans for the coming year, all to try to control what could be a chaotic stampede to the exits.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Kevin Liptak, Dana Bash and Dan Merica report that, “In recent months, top advisers on foreign and domestic policy have announced their departures, and additional aides are expected to make their exit in the coming weeks.”
Kelly, having brought about as much order to the Trump White House as is humanly possible, has told officials he hopes to fill the vacancies by the end of the month. But he’s been saying that since October of last year. As he appoints new people to fill openings in one department, a departure occurs in another. The impression of a cartoon man futilely plugging leaks on both sides of the hull of a sinking ship with his fingers and toes isn’t that far off.
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“Kelly is eating bullets every day by himself and doesn’t have a lot of help,” one person familiar with the staffing crisis at the White House told CNN. “He needs reinforcements.”
But there’s an even larger problem for the chief of staff: he’s running out of qualified candidates willing or able to work for this president. In fact, the whispers in Washington lately suggest that a major leadership shake-up is coming within weeks, and it involves two people whose finger tips have turned white trying to hold this administration together.
“Two of the most senior officials who are on the potential departure list are Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and HR McMaster, the national security adviser,” according to the same CNN report. “The President, like with many of his advisers, has aired frustrations openly with both men. But it’s far from certain whether either official will leave.”
McGahn’s departure would cause a serious blow to the Trump’s ability to defend himself against the onslaught of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, expected to peak sometime later this year. But H.R. McMaster’s sudden exit would be much more concerning and have many more far reaching implications.
He is one of the “only remaining adults in the room” – that shrinking group of highly competent senior administration officials who have avoided both drinking the Trump Kool-Aide fully and landing on the president’s bad side.
McMaster’s failure to tow the company line on Russia and other ideologically driven elements of the Trump agenda have earned him the ire of the alt-right and nationalist wings of Trump’s base. But he’s survived, much to the relief of the military and foreign policy establishment, many of whom view McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council as the only thing standing between order and chaos around the world.
Were he to depart, in the middle of Trump-augmented crises in North Korea, Iran, and the South China Sea, it could set-off a chain of events that leads American foreign policy into the unknown. If he stays, however, he will continue to enable the morally bankrupt Trump presidency well beyond its shelf life.