'Off the charts': White House turnover is breaking records

'I think we have tremendous stability,' Trump told reporters last week
Image: President Donald Trump listens during a meeting in the Cabinet Room on May 16, 2018.
Nine out of 15 Cabinet positions have turned over at least once under President Donald Trump, a new study has found.Olivier Douliery / Getty Images file

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By Dareh Gregorian

The top echelon of the Trump administration has become a high-speed revolving door — with turnover in 78 percent of the positions, a new study has found.

And 31 percent of those White House "A-Team" jobs have turned over more than once, the study by the Brookings Institution shows.

"It's historic, it's unprecedented, it's off the charts," the study's author, Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, told NBC News. "I've never seen this kind of turnover before."

In just 32 months, President Donald Trump's rate of change has surpassed "all of his predecessors who served four-year terms," she said.

The report focuses on the top 65 positions in the Executive Office of the President, which includes jobs like national security adviser, chief of staff, communications director, press secretary and director of national intelligence.

The study found 51 of the 65 positions have turned over since Trump took office.

Sixteen of those positions have turned over twice — or more, the study found.

The most recent departee was national security adviser John Bolton, Trump's third permanent pick for the job, who was forced out earlier this month. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was pushed out for lying about contacts with Russia and is currently awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI about those same dealings. His successor, H.R. McMaster was ousted to make room for Bolton.

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Tenpas, who's studied White House staffing since the 1990s, attributed the high rate of the change to "the president himself. In all of my studies, I've never seen a chief executive who fires staff more frequently and more publicly than President Trump."

"It's extraordinary," she said.

The A-Team figures do not include Trump's Cabinet, where there's also been an unprecedented amount of tumult and turnover. Nine out of the 15 Cabinet positions that are in the presidential line of succession have turned over at least once, Tenpas found. That number surpasses the amount of change during entire first terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and the one term of George H.W. Bush.

The elder Bush is the only president who came close to the amount of Cabinet turnover: eight, but that was over four years.

Prior to Trump, the trends in Cabinet and A-Team turnover were similar, Tenpas said. "There's a little turnover in the first year, a bigger uptick in year two, slightly bigger in year three, and then smaller in year four," with staff and Cabinet members generally staying on during a president's re-election campaigns.

The problems at the top are emblematic of a larger problem plaguing the Trump administration — a large number of vacancies in high-level positions across the federal government. Trump has not nominated people to fill 143 positions that require Senate confirmation, according to an online tracker by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that monitors presidential appointments.

The number of vacancies and employees temporarily filling other jobs leads to "upheaval and chaos" and is hampering the president's ability to get the most out of his agencies, Tenpas said.

Asked about the churn during an event at the southern border last week, Trump had a different take.

"I think we have tremendous stability," Trump told reporters in California. He added that having "acting" agency heads instead of ones confirmed by the Senate gives him "flexibility" and an opportunity to see if they're the right people for the jobs.

"I'm seeing how I like them," he said.