Donald Trump's firings of three key staffers overnight has the White House faltering as insiders fear instability and a flurry of departures to come.
The President's record-breaking turnover of employees came to a head as he dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet, ditched Tillerson's spokesman Steve Goldstein, and fired aide John McEntee — before rehiring him for the 2020 campaign.
Trump has boldly defended his tumultuous administration, insisting he is simply a perfectionist. But insiders say the revolving door will only damage morale and make it harder to get things done.
"It's not just unprecedented," political historian Kathryn Tenpas told the Washington Post. "I would call it off the charts."
During Trump's first year in the job, 34 per cent of his senior employees quit, changed roles or were sacked, according to Ms Tenpas. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn last week brought the figure to 43 per cent, almost triple Barack Obama's total at the end of his second year in office.
And Ms Tenpas said the churn is unlikely to slow, as a president's second year tends to be the time staff tire of their positions or burn out. "There's a domino effect," she said. "They're not replacing people with much speed, and existing staffers have to shoulder more of the burden."
Most of the volatility emerges from the office of the Chief of Staff, the Office of Communications, the Press Office and the National Security Council. As many as 28 workers of 65 have switched roles.
The job of White House communications director is the ultimate poisoned chalice. Since Trump took office in January 2017, Michael Dubke, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci and, in February, Hope Hicks have all left the role. Scaramucci lasted a mere 10 days.
Staff secretary Rob Porter also stepped down last month after allegations of domestic violence.
CNN called Tillerson's dramatic replacement with CIA Director Mike Pompeo a "veritable head-exploder". But in truth, the tension has been bubbling between the President and Secretary of State for months, and such a move was hinted of months ago.
The pair clashed over the President's response to violence last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal and treatment of Qatar. Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as a "moron" in July, prompting the President to suggest they "compare IQ tests".
Unfortunately for Trump employees, working for the White House no longer seems to bestow the same cachet as some in the past, with senior employees including Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon failing to leverage lucrative positions after they left.
TRUMP 'GOING FOR A CLEAN RESET'
So who will be next for the chop? Few visible staff members have managed to completely escape the ire of the capricious President.
Trump has regularly butted heads with "our beleaguered AG" Jeff Sessions after the Attorney-General recused himself from the Russia probe last year. "Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else," the President told The New York Times.
He attacked Sessions for his "VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes" and last month, the President tweeted: "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 took office praising his staff for having "by far the highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled", but in the months that followed, he became increasingly paranoid about leaks and angered at dissent in the ranks.
Reports are swirling that Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly are unhappy over damaging reports into alleged unethical behaviour by White House staff. And while they are united in this concern, Kelly is also tipped to be one of the first to leave.
Another is national security adviser John Bolton, with Trump reportedly planning to interview for both positions next weekend.
"Trump is in command," a Republican in regular contact with the White House told Vanity Fair. "He's been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn't give a f**k."
Another said the President was "going for a clean reset", blaming his failures on having the wrong staff around him.
Daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner look like a distraction at this point, and are also expected to be gently asked to leave, with Kushner's vital security clearances already removed. They could, however, play a role in Trump's 2020 campaign.
Last month, four cabinet officials were called to meetings to discuss questionable practices at their respective agencies, according to Axios, although a spokesperson said these were "positive" discussions about "smart ethical judgment".
When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos embarrassingly struggled to explain her state's school policies on the US 60 Minutes, White House officials leaked that they were "alarmed".
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin reportedly used taxpayers' money to fund his wife's trip to Europe, clashed with staff at his agency and angered Kelly by going to the media with his complaints. A government investigation found he failed to fix longstanding problems of dirty syringes and equipment shortages that put patients at risk at a major veterans hospital, citing "failed leadership" and a "climate of complacency".
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was scrambling to "cancel a US$31,000 (NZ$42,270) order for a customised hardwood dining room table, chairs, sideboard and hutch" after the chairman of the House Oversight Committee announced an investigation, The New York Times reported.
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt caused further headaches by flying first class on the public purse and using a US$45,800 (NZ$62,450) military jet during a trip to Rome, according to the Washington Post.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came under scrutiny for charter flights and infuriated Trump by unexpectedly announcing that Florida would be exempt from offshore drilling.
WHO IS SAFE?
Only a few big-hitters seem to be in a comfortable position. Defence Secretary James Mattis, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are all in favour.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is close to the President and won brownie points for assisting with a major tax reform victory but even he upset the Republican Party over his handling of the debt ceiling.
Trump is often prepared to make sacrifices or let people leave rather than lose an argument.
Some cabinet secretaries have remained safe by flying quietly under the radar. They include Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, new Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, trade representative Bob Lighthizer, and Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon. But one slip-up and they could come racing into view.
"Everybody wants to work in the White House," the President said this week.
One hopes that is true, since Trump is constantly searching for new talent. And while he rarely allows time for doubt, it's more than possible a few employees are feeling rather demoralised right now, and uncertain if they can keep serving their country.
These are bad tidings for America's future.
Out of office
• Anthony Scaramucci - Communications director - Fired - Days in office: 10
• Michael T. Flynn - National security adviser - Fired - Days in office: 25
• Katie Walsh - Deputy chief of staff - Quit - Days in office: 70
• Mike Dubke - Communications director - Quit - Days in office: 88
• K. T. McFarland - Deputy national security adviser - Quit - Days in office: 119
• Sean Spicer - Press secretary, communications director - Quit - Days in office: 183
• Reince Priebus - Chief of staff - Fired - Days in office: 190
• Steve Bannon - Chief strategist - Fired - Days in office: 211
• Sebastian Gorka - White House adviser - Fired - Days in office: 218
• Keith Schiller - Director of Oval Office operations - Quit - Days in office: 243
• Dina H Powell - Deputy national security adviser - Quit - Days in office: 357
• Omarosa Manigault Newman - Director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison - Quit - Days in office: 366
• Rob Porter - Staff secretary - Quit - Days in office: 384
• Hope Hicks - Communications director - Quit - Days in office: 405
• Gary D. Cohn - Chief economic adviser - Quit - Days in office: 411
• Rex Tillerson - Secretary of State - Fired - Days in office: 435