White House aides have been told to make a decision before the end of January whether they intend to leave the administration or stay through the November midterm elections, an official said, a deadline intended to help bring a sense of order to an anticipated staffing exodus.
President Donald Trump is finding it difficult to recruit staff to fill the vacancies, several people close to the West Wing say, as he faces the second year of his administration with daunting political odds and an ongoing Russia investigation.
In recent months, top advisers on foreign and domestic policy have announced their departures. Additional aides are expected to make their exit in the coming weeks. Chief of staff John Kelly has embarked upon an effort to fill the ranks by the end of January. But the absence of willing and qualified replacements, paired with a lengthy hiring process, make it unlikely he’ll reach that goal.
Kelly has been trying to take the reins of staffing in the West Wing since his elevation last summer. But the task has taken on heightened urgency.
“Kelly is eating bullets every day by himself and doesn’t have a lot of help,” said one person familiar with the personnel situation. “He needs reinforcements.”
While a revolving door is common in any administration, people who work inside the White House with previous West Wing experience say the exhaustion is magnified remarkably under Trump. The unpredictability and chaos, along with a fear of costly legal fees in the wake of the Russia investigation, have added to the fatigue.
“It’s been a year, but doesn’t it feel like a decade?” a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive nature of the personnel shifts.
Several of Trump’s top advisers are still weighing whether to leave the administration at the one-year mark. Others appear likely to depart in the coming weeks.
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. 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, who is a potential witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, has compelling legal reasons to stay at the White House, a person familiar with the matter said, despite the President’s level of satisfaction.
McMaster, an active duty three-star Army general, served as a commandeering influence in the West Wing. But he has clashed with Trump over policy in Afghanistan and Iran.
The White House did not respond to a CNN request for comment.