5 Members of the Obama Administration Who Left on Bad Terms
Following Julia Pierson — the director of the White House’s Secret Service security team — stepping down from her post earlier this week, now seems an appropriate juncture to examine major departures from the Obama Administration. There have been a number of planned exits and retirements, including former Press Secretary Jay Carney (replaced by Josh Earnest earlier this year) and the upcoming exit of Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his retirement last week.
However, given the shadow under which Pierson is leaving her post, we’ll take a look at the officials who have left under duress rather than for personal reasons. Often this reflects poorly on the Obama Administration, even if, as is the case with Pierson, opponents are critical in the interest of proper safety for the president and his staff.
Let’s start with Director Pierson herself. A House of Representatives oversight committee held a hearing after it became public knowledge that a White House intruder not only managed to surpass the surrounding fence and cross the lawn, but to enter the building and incapacitate a security officer. The man, Omar Gonzalez, was eventually taken into custody on the first floor of the building, but only after two guards failed to stop him — one who was not in his assigned position — and an alarm box placed on mute failed to alert security. In addition to this concerning news, it was also acknowledged that an armed individual who had a criminal record was allowed to ride an elevator with President Barack Obama last month.
“I have very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) to Pierson, according to The Guardian. “My confidence in you protecting the president is very, very low right now. I don’t think you are taking your job seriously.” The White House, for its part, was supportive of the security team. “The president continues to have confidence in their ability to perform their very difficult function,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest in a weekend briefing.
According to The New York Times, Pierson said of her resignation, “I can be pretty stoic about all this, but not really. It’s painful to leave.”
Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was responsible for the function of Healthcare.gov, and took much of the blame when the website’s rollout was filled with software errors and design flaws. After the initial mayhem caused by the site’s failure, many Republicans called for the president to have her removed. Sebelius stood firm on remaining in office and was defended by Obama, but later in the year she chose to depart. She did wait until enrollment numbers had improved before leaving under her own steam, but she is still clearly a candidate for a less-than perfect sendoff, even if Obama tried to put a positive spin on her departure.
“After five years of extraordinary service to our country, and seven and a half million Americans who’ve signed up for health coverage through the exchange, she’s earned the right [to step down],” he said. “She’s got bumps. I’ve got bumps, bruises. But under Kathleen’s leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got [the federal health care website] fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself.”
Sebelius said in her resignation speech that, “Critics and supporters alike are benefiting from [Obama’s] law,” and called it the “most meaningful work I’ve ever been a part of.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May of this year after whistleblowers and an internal audit showed enormous VA corruption, bureaucratic mismanagement, and fatal failure to give timely treatment to veterans in need of health care. After the extent of the problem was revealed, Shinseki stepped down amidst over 100 lawmakers demanding his resignation.
While the president did forcibly remove him from office, it was clear he approved of the former VA secretary’s choice to leave. “As he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address [problems with access to care]. He does not want to be a distraction, because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure our vets are getting the care that they need. That was Ric’s judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans. And I agree. We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem,” said Obama in a statement announcing Shinseki’s resignation.
Looking back slightly further in the Obama Administration’s history, Jofi Joseph was a national security aide who was actually fired, rather than simply resigning under poor circumstances. His removal is hardly surprising given what he was caught doing: tweeting derogatory messages about the Obama Administration’s policies and staff members alongside negative comments about the Republican party as well. This went on for two years before he was caught for the anonymous comments.
“It has been a privilege to serve in this administration and I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me. What started out as an intended parody account of D.C. culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments. I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted,” said Joseph in a statement to Politico.
Stanley A. McChrystal
General Stanley A. McChrystal was relived of duty after an interview with McChrystal — former leader against insurgency in Afghanistan — ran in Rolling Stones that cast a less than perfect light on President Obama, General McCrystal, and the efforts being made overseas.
The article was blunt and candid, and included background on McChrystal, his outlook, and his opinions on the president and military effort that would have made anyone in the administration wince. At the time of his dismissal in June of 2010, President Obama said that, “I don’t make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement about our strategy. Nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult.” He went on to say that a “unity of effort” was needed within the security team, and that, “I don’t think we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objective in Afghanistan without making this change.”
McChrystal later took responsibility for his role in the dismissal, but said in an interview with ABC that he never expected to be removed for disloyalty. “It felt surreal, because my whole career I’d thought that I could be fired for incompetence, or I could be killed, or I could have any number of things happen, but I never thought I could be painted with any brush of disrespect or disloyalty, because I didn’t see myself that way. And I still don’t,” said McChrystal.
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS