It’s a moment in Donald Trump’s presidency that has become all too familiar: another round of bloodletting.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta had gambled that his news conference on Wednesday would appease an audience of one: Trump. But Acosta’s defense of how, as U.S. attorney in Florida, he handled a sex-crimes case against the financier Jeffrey Epstein failed to dampen accusations that he had gone easy on a rich and powerful predator. Amid mounting calls for his resignation, Acosta announced yesterday he would step down. His departure gratifies critics who believed he deserved a comeuppance. Yet political advisers fear the broader tumult inside the administration could also roil Trump’s reelection bid, feeding long-standing criticism that he hasn’t properly vetted his appointees, nor met his promise to recruit the best people. And Acosta’s fall creates a fresh vacancy in an administration that has already seen record-setting turnover.
Relying on a string of officials holding jobs on a temporary basis, Trump is sitting atop a hollowed-out administration that is lacking in the permanent leadership needed to manage escalating foreign and domestic crises, good-government experts told me. Signs suggest the churn isn’t about to stop. Trump has been calling friends and advisers lately about National Security Adviser John Bolton, looking for their impressions of his performance and asking whether he needs to go, according to people who have been briefed on the calls and who, like others I spoke with for this story, requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. Meanwhile, Axios, among other news outlets, reported yesterday that Trump has told confidants he wants to replace Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, with whom the president has had an uneasy relationship.