Besides creating a public relations nightmare for the Trump White House and raising more questions about its ties to the Russian government, the resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn from the role of national security advisor on Monday was historic in terms of the speed with which it occurred.
That is by far the shortest tenure of a National Security Advisor (not counting acting and interim caretakers) since the position was created in 1953 during the Cold War.
Prior to Flynn, the shortest serving occupant of the role (which is not subject to Senate confirmation) was William H. Jackson, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who advised President Dwight Eisenhower for 129 days during the tail end of his first term in the White House. Jackson was replaced in what appears to be part of the traditional turnover which tends to occur when administrations enter a second term.
According to author and London School of Economics government fellow Brian Klaas, the average length of a National Security Advisor’s White House tenure is 949 days on the job.
In other words, the timing of Flynn’s early departure, amid a cloud of suspicion and international intrigue, is fairly unprecedented.
In 2014, the Washington Post reported that only 13 executive branch officials have served fewer than 100 days in office throughout the country’s history, and that the average cabinet member spends “1,118 days between confirmation and resignation.”
There are infamous outliers, such as former President William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia in office just 31 days after his inauguration. However, typically if a senior White House official only lasts a few days in a position it’s because they are simply finishing out the waning days of a lame duck presidency.
That appears to have been the case with Joseph W. Barr, who served as Treasury Secretary for the last 31 days of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration in January of 1969. The same goes for Lawrence Eagleburger who became Secretary of State in December of 1992, after President George H.W. Bush had lost his re-election bid, and stayed on for 43 days until January 20, 1993.
Three other top officials who tenures were shorter than Flynn’s date back to the 19th century.
Former Congressman Thomas W. GIlmer was appointed as Secretary of the Navy in February of 1844, but was killed tragically in a boating accident nine days later.
Elihu B. Washburne only lasted in the highly influential role of Secretary of State of 12 days due to health scare in March of 1869.
And Thomas M.T. McKennan only made it to 11 days as Secretary of the Interior in 1850, reportedly because he never really wanted the job in the first place.
Although Flynn may still be subjected to investigations for his purported overtures to Russia on sanctions, he can take heart in the fact Washburne rebounded after his illness to have a respected career as a diplomat and even mounted a campaign for the presidency in 1880, albeit an unsuccessful one.