As the days of the Trump presidency wind down, the picture of how his tenure in office compares with that of his predecessors is becoming clearer.
It’s long been known that President Donald Trump’s actions in office have upended the norms of the presidency — from his use of social media to make major announcements to his use of the pardon power to the amount of turnover in his administration.
The story of the Trump presidency cannot be fully told in numbers. But these numbers illustrate some of the many ways Trump and his administration defied the status quo of the executive branch.
While Barack Obama was the first US president to fully harness the power of modern social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, no American president has used social media — specifically, Twitter — like Trump.
Trump has continued to tweet more with each additional year in office. He has tweeted more than 25,000 times — an average of 18 times per day — since taking office in January 2017, including retweets. His longest break from Twitter was just 1.9 days without tweeting in June 2017, when former FBI Director James Comey was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee during the Russia investigation.
While in office, Trump has continued to use a personal cell phone with a microphone and camera to make calls — defying previous presidential security protocols and ignoring repeated warnings from his staff that the practice could leave him vulnerable to foreign surveillance.
By comparison, Obama, who requested he be able to keep his Blackberry while in office, was given a “a military-grade phone without a microphone, camera, or location tracker that could not make or receive calls,” according to Politico.
Trump has also largely eschewed many of the formalities associated with the public affairs side of the office. He’s largely forgone news releases and one-on-one television interviews in favor of tweets to announce delicate matters such as Cabinet terminations and new policies.
And public behavior that otherwise was largely beneath the office before his tenure is often on full display online, with Trump often resorting to name-calling and tweeting overtly racist messages and media. On Twitter, he regularly expresses displeasure toward his own appointees, and sometimes uses expletives or shares tweets from users who do.
He also uses social media to spread misinformation. As of December 17, Twitter had flagged 362 of his tweets over potentially misleading or disputed claims, according to Factba.se, a data analytics company.
As of December 15, the turnover rate among “senior-ranking advisers in the executive office of the president” was 91%, according to the Brookings Institution. Thirty-nine percent of these departures have been in jobs that have turned over twice or more since Trump took office.
In addition, there have been 13 Cabinet departures since Trump took office, the most recent to exit being Attorney General William Barr.
Data collected by Brookings looking into turnover among those same “senior-ranking adviser” roles in past administrations found that among US presidents going back to Ronald Reagan, none had a turnover rate higher than 80% in his first term in office.
That same data showed that each US president going back to Reagan had eight or fewer Cabinet departures in his first four years in office.
Trump has had four White House press secretaries. This is the most press secretaries to ever fill the role in one US presidential term since the job was established more than 90 years ago.
Trump has had four chiefs of staff, tying with Obama for the most chiefs of staff during a first term.
Additionally, Trump has had seven White House communications directors. Anthony Scaramucci, who was fired after 11 days, had the shortest tenure in history in that position.
Trump has been able to successfully appoint three US Supreme Court justices, and he’s surpassed the number of federal judges appointed by George H.W. Bush — the most recent one-term president.
Earlier this year, Trump was also on track to appoint more federal appellate judges than any recent president at the same point in his presidency, according to the Pew Research Center. Although Trump served only four years, his changes to the makeup of federal courts will be felt long after he leaves the White House.
As of December 11, 520 presidential documents signed by Trump — including executive orders, presidential memorandums, determinations and notices — had been published in the Federal Register. Of those, 288 were executive orders and presidential memorandums, not including memos that are clerical in nature.
Presidents have increasingly used executive orders and presidential memorandums interchangeably to issue directives to their agencies; they are both legally binding, though executive action can be undone by the next president.
The increased reliance on such actions has come as an increasingly gridlocked Congress has made it difficult for presidents to act on their agendas.
Obama had issued 226 executive orders and memorandums at this point in his tenure in office, while George W. Bush had signed 189.
Before becoming President, Trump complained about what he saw as Obama’s overuse of executive authority but also suggested that the government could be run like a business.
“The country wasn’t based on executive orders,” Trump said in February 2016. “Right now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it.”
Yet Trump has already exceeded both George W. Bush and Obama in the number of published executive orders and memorandums.
Trump initially framed his presidency as one that would be run like a business, saying during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016 that “If we could run our country the way I’ve run my company, we would have a country that you would be so proud of.”
But in the months after he came into office, Trump lamented that politics is “a very rough system” and “an archaic system.” And in an interview reflecting on his first 100 days in office, Trump told Reuters, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
Coronavirus cases and deaths
Trump’s final year in office has largely been defined by his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The US has 4% of the world’s population, but as of mid-December it has 23% of the world’s coronavirus cases and 19% of the deaths.
As of December 17, there had been more than 300,000 coronavirus deaths in the US and 17 million coronavirus cases in the US.
Since taking office, the President has made 418 visits to Trump-branded properties — which include 307 days spent at golf clubs, according to CNN’s count based on pool reports, public schedules and public appearances as of December 17. That means Trump has visited golf courses on about 21% of the days of his presidency, or roughly 1 in 5 days. He has visited Trump properties on about 29% of the days of his presidency — nearly one-third of his days in office.
Trump has spent 48 days at golf clubs and made 77 visits to Trump-branded properties since the first coronavirus case was identified in the US.
Before he became President, Trump often complained about then-President Obama’s golfing habit, saying in 2015 that Obama “may play more golf than any human being in America, and I’m not sure that’s good for the President.”
The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 and expanded in 1994. Between 1988 and 2003, when a moratorium was imposed, there were only three federal executions, all under George W. Bush. The 10 executions ordered under Trump so far are the most federal executions under any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Barr, Trump’s outgoing attorney general, resumed federal executions in July 2019 after the 17-year hiatus. The last time this many federal executions were scheduled to be conducted during the lame-duck period of a presidency, Grover Cleveland was president, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Trump isn’t the first President to have individuals in his orbit be found guilty of crimes, but he’s the first US President in decades to see this many friends and associates face potential jail time.
CNN’s count of individuals charged or found guilty of crimes up and down Richard Nixon’s command, for example, includes many of the individuals involved in the Watergate scandal, such as Nixon’s chief of staff and the five men involved in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
And the individuals charged or found guilty of crimes around Ronald Reagan include a slew of associates involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and associates charged in relation to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce’s mismanagement of the agency.
Pardons and commutations
While other presidents were criticized for their use of the pardon power for what appeared to be political ends, Trump’s acts of clemency have brought that self-serving use of the power to new extremes.
Many of Trump’s pardons and sentence commutations have gone to former associates, conservative political figures and the well-connected. All but five individuals who received clemency from Trump have connections to the White House or currency with his political base or, in the case of a posthumous pardon of Susan B. Anthony, serve as a political symbol (even though she wore the conviction proudly and historians say would not have wanted the pardon).
Throughout his presidency, Trump has spotlighted his signing of the First Step Act into law — a sweeping criminal justice law that led to the release of thousands of federal prisoners. But his record on pardons and commutations only bolsters the evidence that he’s not striving to right past wrongs based on systemic bias in the criminal justice system, with some notable exceptions.
One of Trump’s first commutations while in office was to Alice Marie Johnson, who had been serving a life sentence for money laundering and a nonviolent drug offense. But like many of the individuals granted clemency by Trump, Johnson’s name was brought for serious consideration only when an individual connected to the White House — namely, Kim Kardashian West — got in touch.
So far, the number of people who have been pardoned or granted commutations by Trump is much smaller than acts of clemency by past US presidents going back to Nixon.
Jimmy Carter, who served for only one term, like Trump, granted 534 pardons. Obama’s 1,715 commuted prison sentences in his two terms were the most of any president in history — and he specifically explained his motivations to highlight systemic bias in the criminal justice system.
Many modern presidents have waited until the waning days of their presidencies to issue acts of clemency. And CNN has recently reported that Trump, in his final months in office, is mulling preemptive pardons for more associates, members of his family and possibly himself. A source also told CNN earlier this month to expect a “flurry” of additional pardons before Trump leaves office.
CNN’s Betsy Klein and Christina Carrega contributed to this report.