How to get fired by the president of the United States

Story highlights

  • Michael Flynn resigned Monday night
  • There are many ways to get sacked by a president

(CNN)Chaos has been an organizing principle of Donald Trump's young presidency. And from what we know of the White House's inner workings, it applies as much to personnel as policy.

While it's not unusual to see turnover inside a new administration, the departure of national security adviser Michael Flynn on Monday night is unique for the when -- only 25 days in -- and why.
As Flynn explained in his letter of resignation, "I inadvertently briefed the Vice President-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador."
    There are (at least) 50 ways to leave an administration. This is one. Another had been explored by Sally Yates, the acting attorney general who declined to defend the President's travel ban.
    Here are a few more -- some novel, others now familiar -- to get fired (or forced to "resign") by the president of the United States of America and his staff.

    Mock the White House and complain about war strategy in a magazine profile

    Not everyone who is sacked by the commander in chief actually gets the news -- and their marching orders -- directly from the Oval Office. In that way, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was different.
    He was removed from his post as the top US commander in Afghanistan in 2010 after publicly mocking civilian leaders in a now famous Rolling Stone article. President Barack Obama, like President Harry Truman did to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951, fired McChrystal and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus, then the head of US Central Command.

    Make it a little too much about you, and don't mind the guest list

    Desiree Rogers was an Obama family friend and campaign fundraiser. When the new president moved into the White House in 2009, she became his administration's first social secretary. Rogers seemed to enjoy the job, perhaps too much. At a time of recession, her appearances on the cover of glossy magazines sometimes rubbed top officials, not to mention first lady Michelle Obama, the wrong way.
    The final straw came on November 24, 2009, when a pair of aspiring reality show stars crashed a State dinner -- the province of social secretaries -- with the Indian Prime Minister. Michaele and Tareq Salahi arrived at the White House uninvited, entered after passing through layers of security and eventually made their way to the Blue Room for a handshake with the President.
    A few months later, Rogers was gone.

    Be the Treasury secretary during an economic downturn

    President George W. Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, was asked to resign in December 2002 as the economy stagnated and he clashed with the White House over concerns about a growing federal deficit. Vice President Dick Cheney told O'Neill they "don't matter," and the administration pushed ahead on another round of tax cuts.
    O'Neill and another top economic adviser were given pink slips not long after a jobs report was released showing unemployment at an eight-year high. He was later the subject and primary source of a tell-all book that didn't flatter too many people in the Bush administration.

    Get smeared by Breitbart -- and have the administration buy it

    Shirley Sherrod was an Agriculture Department employee in Georgia when, in 2010, she was pushed out by the Obama administration. The decision came down in response to a deceptively edited video that seemed to show Sherrod bragging that she, an African-American woman, had not used "the full force of what I could do" to aid a white farmer in distress.
    The clip was posted online to a Breitbart website and quickly seized on by Fox News' evening roster. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Sherrod to step down, and the NAACP denounced her remarks.
    One problem: The scene was not what it seemed.
    Sherrod, in the full telling, explained that she had overcome her initial misgivings and helped save the white family's farm. (Its owners would publicly come to her defense.) After the deception was revealed, Vilsack offered Sherrod a ticket back -- she would decline -- and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly apologized "for not doing my homework."

    Talk about masturbation in the mid-1990s

    If Joycelyn Elders had not resigned, "she would have been terminated," Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta told reporters at the time.
    Elders was already a controversial figure when she was asked, at a 1994 AIDS conference, whether masturbation should be promoted as part of an effort to slow the epidemic.
    "I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught," she said. "But we've not even taught our children the very basics."
    Elders later clarified her point, explaining that she meant children should be given more robust sexual education -- not instructed how to masturbate. But it was too late.

    Be an FBI director who runs afoul of the Clinton administration and the Justice Department

    On July 19, 1993, Bill Clinton became the first president to fire an FBI director.
    William Sessions was dismissed, as Clinton told a reporter that day, for "lots of reasons." The details were hazy -- a Justice Department review had turned up alleged ethics violations -- and critics suggested that sidelining Sessions, an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan's, was a political power move by the new commander in chief.
    But Clinton, with the backing of his attorney general, Janet Reno, moved ahead and eventually replaced Sessions with Louis Freeh, a US district court judge.

    Authorize the sale of weapons to Iran, then use the proceeds to fund Nicaraguan rebels

    A Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and aide to President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council, Oliver North was fired in 1986 after it was revealed that the US had been selling weapons to Iran and funneling the profits -- in defiance of new law -- to rebel fighters in Nicaragua.
    North was prosecuted on criminal charges, but his eventual convictions would be vacated after multiple appeals. Now the face of the Iran-Contra affair, North wrote in a 1991 book that Reagan, despite repeated denials, "knew everything."

    Be a little too successful in probing a criminal president

    Archibald Cox took over the Watergate investigation as a special prosecutor on May 18, 1973. A little more than five months later, he was fired during what came to be known as President Richard Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre."
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    Appointed by then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson, Cox broadened the probe and eventually sought Nixon's private tapes. When the President refused both Cox and a judge's orders, a constitutional crisis erupted -- one Nixon sought to extinguish by ordering Richardson to fire Cox. He did not, resigning along with his deputy.
    Nixon eventually terminated Cox and his office before resigning in disgrace the following year.

    Demand to bomb China, then complain when the president says 'no'

    Gen. Douglas MacArthur was a World War II legend who had been waging a successful campaign in Korea. But his immoderate ambitions got the best of him. Which was probably good news for millions of people, as President Harry Truman rejected MacArthur's request to bomb China as a means of pressing US forces into North Korea.
    Truman was insistent on Korea remaining a "limited war." And by stripping MacArthur of his command, he guaranteed it.

    Oppose US involvement in World War II

    Secretary of War Harry Woodring was, despite his title, an isolationist. A veteran of World War I, he took over what is now known as the Department of Defense in 1936. But by 1940, with Nazi Germany on the march and Pearl Harbor more than a year off, he fought President Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to supply arms and other aid to the British.
    He was asked -- in a letter -- to resign his post on June 19, 1940.