Leaving So Soon? A Look At Ten Departures From President Obama’s Team

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December 31, 2009 10:13 a.m.
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It’s been an eventful year for President Obama’s White House, which has seen several top hands come and go.

Some left before he was even inaugurated, others on friendly terms and just a handful under circumstances that were all around bad PR for Team Obama.

TPMDC took a look and realized more than ten people had departed Obama’s circle of advisers in the year 2009 – from a press hand who always planned to leave to a forced resignation over the Air Force One Manhattan photo-op debacle.

A few, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s original chief of staff Jackie Norris, didn’t make our Top 10 list. We also left off the Secret Service agents placed on leave thanks to the Salahi couple’s party crashing.

It’s a demanding White House and staff changes are nothing unusual for an administration, but it made sense to collect the moves for posterity.

After the jump, we delve into the Top 10 departures from the Obama White House.1. A few days into the new year, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination to be Obama’s Secretary of Commerce.

Citing an ongoing ethics scandal (from which he was later cleared) that he didn’t want to be a distraction for the incoming president, Richardson said he prayed for Obama’s success.

2. In his second attempt to find a Commerce pick, Obama nominated Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), saying he thought the bipartisan move would help them best run the nation’s finances together.

Gregg dropped out soon after realizing he couldn’t see eye to eye with the Democratic president’s economic agenda.

Obama then nominated former Washington Gov. Gary Locke for Commerce in a third time’s the charm move. A great piece about Obama’s nominating strategy can be found here.

3. The first White House communications director Ellen Moran was one of the few members of the West Wing communications team who was not part of the campaign.

She left three months into the administration, transferring to be Locke’s chief of staff over at Commerce. She didn’t complain about Team Obama but there was some buzz that she didn’t fit in among the mostly male and tight-knit West Wing staff.

Thanks to tax issues, Obama lost two nominees in one February day.

4. Nancy Killefer was supposed to fill the new position of chief performance officer but her relatively minor tax problems led to her being caught up in Tom Daschle’s larger problems.

She said in a letter to Obama she had a “personal tax issue of D.C. Unemployment tax,” that she worried that would be a distraction. That issue was a $900 tax lien placed on her home in 2005 by the District of Columbia.

5. Daschle had to pay nearly $130,000 in back taxes and interest for failing to report a gift of a private car and driver as income.

Though as we have reported, Daschle has remained in the Obama inner circle.

6. Greg Craig’s departure as White House counsel was the least surprising because it was rumored for months there was tension in the West Wing over the president’s Guantanamo Bay strategy.

The White House formally announced Craig would be returning to private practice the day Obama left on a more than week-long trip through Asia.

In a letter to Obama, Craig said it had been a busy first year and he felt “lucky” to be a part of it. During the campaign, Craig was an early Obama backer over Hillary Clinton. He played the role of Sen. John McCain in their debate training.

Obama called him a “close friend and trusted advisor” and administration officials denied Gitmo had anything to do with the decision, effective Jan. 3.

In the category of embarrassing departures, there are relatively few.

7. Green jobs “czar” Van Jones was a casualty of the conservative media, resigning at midnight on a Saturday following a firestorm over his past public statements on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and other issues.

8. Most public was the resignation of military director Louis Caldera. He stepped down after an investigation into the mysterious Air Force One flyover that frightened Manhattanites for its similarities to 9/11.

It turned out Caldera, who had been on medication for a pained back at the time, had authorized the flyover as a photo-op and disregarded suggestions the media be notified.

9. Anita Dunn came in to replace Moran on a temporary basis, with plans to leave the administration at the end of the year.

Dunn, one of the few in the Obama inner circle during the campaign, took aim at Fox News during her tenure. She earned constant criticism from Glenn Beck and others and said the network was not a real “news” organization.

She left the administration last month and deputy Dan Pfeiffer was promoted to communications director.

Dunn’s husband Bob Bauer was brought in to replace Craig.

10. Mark Lippert is an Obama friend and confidant who served on the national security team most of this year. In October the White House announced he would be returning to active duty in the U.S. Navy.

Ed note: This post has been edited to correct Lippert’s role with the Navy.

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