The growing list of people Donald Trump hired who eventually soured on him
In the opening public hearings of the select committee investigating the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol, the most damning evidence that former President Donald Trump conspired to overturn a lawful election has come from the people Trump himself appointed or hired.
Former Trump Attorney General William Barr, for instance, told the committee that his former boss had "become detached from reality" on the subject of his election loss, adding that Trump had no "interest in what the actual facts were.” Barr described as "bulls***" and "complete nonsense" what he called Trump's "crazy" assertions that fraud had cost him the election, and said he had let the president know it.
In response to Barr's testimony to the committee, Trump predictably lashed out at the man he chose to be his attorney general, saying in a statement last week that "he sucked!"
It's well-known that many of the people who were willing to go to work for the former president have since revised their opinion of him. Trump's four years in the White House saw the highest turnover rate of any administration in U.S. history, and many of those who moved on appear to have left with a bitter taste in their mouth.
As Trump eyes another presidential bid, it is worth considering the people whose opinions of Trump deteriorated as a result of having worked for him. The following is a list of Trump aides and administration officials who have spoken out against their old boss.
Trump's pressure on his vice president, Mike Pence, to send the Electoral College results back to the states is at the center of the Jan. 6 select committee hearings. Pence's refusal to do so earned him the wrath of Trump and his supporters, who chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" as they ransacked the Capitol.
In a speech to the Federalist Society in February, Pence publicly disclosed his thinking about Trump's request.
“President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence said, adding, “The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”
In his testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, Bill Stepien, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, said that the dishonest campaign by Trump and his underlings to convince the American people that the election had been "stolen" inspired him to resign.
“I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that point in time, so that led to me stepping away,” Stepien told lawmakers.
Trump's former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, B.J. Pak, told the Jan. 6 committee that he had investigated claims of voter fraud in Georgia, including ones made by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani about voting improprieties in Fulton County, and found them all to be "false." After learning that Trump planned to fire him over that finding, Pak resigned as U.S. attorney.
In his testimony to the committee, former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann described conversations he had with right-wing attorney John Eastman, the author of an infamous memo imploring Pence to try to reverse the 2020 election results. Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, has said Eastman plotted with Trump to try to overturn the election results.
When Eastman pressed Herschmann to pursue a challenge to the results in Georgia, the White House lawyer said he replied, "Are you out of your f***ing mind?" Herschmann, who had no patience with Trump's claims that the election had been rigged against him, said he then offered Eastman some free legal advice: "Get a great f***ing criminal defense lawyer. You're going to need it."
One of Trump's most loyal Cabinet members, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, said she lost faith in her former boss the day his supporters stormed the Capitol to try to block the certification of Joe Biden's victory.
"When I saw what was happening on Jan. 6 and didn't see the president step in and do what he could have done to turn it back or slow it down or really address the situation, it was just obvious to me that I couldn't continue," DeVos said in an interview published June 9 in USA Today.
DeVos said she also spoke to other Cabinet members and Pence about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
Throughout his 17-month tenure as national security adviser, John Bolton clashed with Trump over how to handle U.S. policy toward North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Ukraine. A year after Trump fired him, Bolton made clear that he would not be casting a vote for Trump in the 2020 election.
“I hope [history] will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral,” Bolton said in an interview with ABC News.“We can get over one term. I have absolute confidence. … Two terms, I’m more troubled about.”
In his 2018 resignation letter to Trump, former Defense Secretary James Mattis made clear that he strongly opposed the foreign policy decisions of his boss. "Our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships," Mattis wrote.
While remaining mostly silent about his issues with Trump, Mattis issued a stinging rebuke in 2020 of the president's approach to handling civil unrest stemming from police misconduct against African Americans.
"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try," Mattis wrote in the Atlantic. "Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who left the White House in 2019 after repeated clashes with Trump, reportedly called him "the most flawed person" he had ever met.
Kelly shared Mattis's assessment of Trump published in the Atlantic, and essentially told his interviewer, Trump's short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci, that the country had made a mistake in electing him.
“I think we really need to step back," Kelly said. I think we need to look harder at who we elect.”
Richard V. Spencer
Trump fired Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer in 2019 over his objections to Trump's insistence that a member of the Navy SEALs charged with war crimes and murder be allowed to retire with full benefits and with his military rank restored. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Spencer said Trump's intervention was "a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices."
Picked by Trump to serve as a senior adviser and director of the National Economics Council, Gary Cohn left after little more than a year in those roles after a dispute over the president's plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. Months after leaving his job, Cohn was quoted in Bob Woodward's book "Fear: Trump in the White House," calling Trump "a professional liar."
Trump's homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said that in early 2018 he informed the president that the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered with the 2016 presidential election had been "completely debunked." That didn't stop Trump from embarking on a pressure campaign to convince the government in Kyiv to come up with damaging information on his political rival, Joe Biden. Bossert resigned in April of 2018 and vented months later in an interview with ABC News.
“I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here. ... Let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”
Omarosa Manigault Newman
The former "Apprentice" contestant hired by Trump as a political aide fell out with her boss after serving nearly a year in his administration. After she was fired, she published one of the first tell-all books about working in the Trump White House.
"Donald Trump, who would attack civil rights icons and professional athletes, who would go after grieving black widows, who would say there were good people on both sides, who endorsed an accused child molester; Donald Trump, and his decisions and his behavior, was harming the country. I could no longer be a part of this madness," she wrote in her book.
Trump fired back at the reality TV star turned politico, calling her "wacky" and "vicious."
Stephanie Grisham, former White House press secretary and communications director, says she began to sour on Trump before she resigned on Jan. 6, 2021.
In her tell-all book "I'll Take Your Questions Now," she detailed Trump's regular verbal abuse and compromising requests.
“I knew that sooner or later, the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic,” Grisham wrote.
Grisham has predicted that if Trump were to win a second term, "He will be about revenge."
Alyssa Farrah Griffin
Former White House Communications Director Alyssa Farrah Griffin left her post in the Trump administration shortly before the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, because she said the president knew full well that he had lost the election but continued to peddle false claims about voter fraud.
“He knew,” Farrah said in an interview with CNN's Pamela Brown. “He told me shortly after that he knew he lost, but then folks got around him. They got information in front of him, and I think his mind genuinely might have been changed about that, and that’s scary, because he did lose, and the facts are out there.”
Griffin has emerged as a persistent critic of the former president, telling Vanity Fair in May that she is trying to reach those who, like her, "drank the Kool-Aid" and once supported him.
“The people I’m most hoping to reach and convince that Trump is terrible for our country, are people who, like I once did, support him," she said.
Reported to have mocked Trump at a private dinner party as having the intelligence of a "kindergartener," former national security adviser H.R. McMaster left his White House post in 2018, little more than a year after he accepted the post. The two men had often clashed on subjects such as how to end the war in Afghanistan, but McMaster kept his criticism of the president mostly hidden until a month before the 2020 election.
Asked if Trump was as big a threat to election integrity in the U.S. as Russia, McMaster was unequivocal.
“He is aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts by not being direct about this,” McMaster said of Trump in an interview on MSNBC.
McMaster theorized that if Trump did not confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over his 2016 election meddling directly, "he'll inadvertently draw his own election into question."
Anthony Scaramucci served in the Trump administration as White House communications director for all of 11 days, but that apparently was enough to dramatically change his view of Donald Trump.
Amid criticism of Trump's response to mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, and Trump's responses to it, Scaramucci diagnosed the fate of all Trump critics.
“For the last 3 years I have fully supported this President,” Scaramucci tweeted in 2019. “Recently he has said things that divide the country in a way that is unacceptable. So I didn’t pass the 100% litmus test. Eventually he turns on everyone, and soon it will be you and then the entire country.”
Trump's former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, took aim at the former president a week after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"We need to acknowledge he let us down," Haley, once a steadfast Trump loyalist, told Politico. "He went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him, and we shouldn't have listened to him. And we can't let that ever happen again."
Especially galling to Haley was Trump's tweet attacking Pence, as a mob of his supporters roamed the Capitol chanting that he should be hanged.
"When I tell you I'm angry, it's an understatement," Haley said. "Mike has been nothing but loyal to that man. He's been nothing but a good friend of that man. ... I am so disappointed in the fact that [despite] the loyalty and friendship he had with Mike Pence, that he would do that to him. Like, I'm disgusted by it."
Haley softened that criticism in the months that followed, however.
The longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who also served as the vice president of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty in 2018 to criminal counts that included campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. Known as Trump's "fixer," Cohen quickly turned on his former boss, arguing in court that he had broken laws at Trump's direction.
Since his conviction, Cohen has spoken out regularly about his relationship with Trump, and has helped federal and state investigators in their probes of the former president. In a YouTube series posted following the second public hearing of the Jan. 6 select committee, Cohen summarized his attitude toward Trump.
"You may all remember when I testified before the House Oversight Committee and I stated emphatically that Donald Trump is a racist, he's a liar, he's a con man, he's a cheat," Cohen said.
"And over the course of the years, I've called Donald Trump what? The grifter-in-chief. And today what did we learn? That right after they lost the election, the campaign — with, of course, Donald's approval — puts out this massive request for people to donate to the legal fund to challenge the big lie, to challenge the electoral vote and the theft that he keeps claiming took place. Well, they raised a ton of money. None of that money ended up getting spent, so where did that money go?"
Trump fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March 2018 in a tweet after a year that the two men had spent disagreeing on the role of U.S. allies and whether to pursue another nuclear deal with Iran. In the months that followed, Tillerson, the former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, let it be known that he did not have an elevated opinion of Trump's intelligence or attention span.
Tillerson said he found it challenging "to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe,’” he told CBS News in December 2018.
By 2021, his view of Trump had further dimmed.
"His understanding of global events, his understanding of global history, his understanding of U.S. history was really limited. It's really hard to have a conversation with someone who doesn't even understand the concept for why we're talking about this," Tillerson told Foreign Policy.
in her memoir, “Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, Covid-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late,” former Trump White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx describes the former president's efforts on COVID-19 a "tragedy, on many levels."
Recounting the famous April 2020 briefing during which Trump suggested treating COVID-19 by injecting disinfectant, Birx wrote, “I looked down at my feet and wished for two things: something to kick and for the floor to open up and swallow me whole.”
Birx said she demanded that guidance be immediately reversed, and Trump quickly pivoted to saying he had only been joking.
Like Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci also quickly ran afoul of Trump in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic for questioning his judgment on how to deal with rising infections and deaths and publicly correcting him at news conferences.
Fauci, who had declared prior to the 2020 election that he would not stay in his job if Trump were to win, has described the "liberating feeling" of working for Biden. That's not surprising given that Trump and his allies have often attempted to blame the pandemic on Fauci.
In an interview with the New York Times, Fauci said he realized that his relationship with Trump was likely to go south as he continued to appear at daily coronavirus briefings with the president.
"He would say something that clearly was not correct, and then a reporter would say, 'Well, let’s hear from Dr. Fauci.' I would have to get up and say, 'No, I’m sorry, I do not think that is the case.' It isn’t like I took any pleasure in contradicting the president of the United States. I have a great deal of respect for the office. But I made a decision that I just had to. Otherwise I would be compromising my own integrity, and be giving a false message to the world. If I didn’t speak up, it would be almost tacit approval that what he was saying was OK," Fauci said.
"That’s when I started to get into some trouble."
Cover photo: Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters