In an interview on Monday on “Good Morning America,” Cliff Sims, a former White House aide promoting a tell-all book about life inside the West Wing, wanted to make clear that he had left his job on his own terms. Anticipating pushback from the White House, he told George Stephanopoulos, the host, that he had brought his resignation letter along to prove it.
White House aides have been telling reporters for weeks that was fired, but did not want to comment about him on the record. A former official noted that Mr. Sims was “instructed to leave due to a major security breach” — a reference to what Mr. Sims said was the time he recorded President Trump in the White House on his government phone and then emailed those files to himself, but insisted that was not the reason he left.
The Trump White House has set a record for turnover — more than double that of President Barack Obama’s after two years in office — but somehow leaving it is never simple.
Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former communications adviser, was abruptly fired in the Situation Room, though she said Mr. Trump later claimed that he knew nothing about her dismissal and she denied that she had abused the White House car service, as aides claimed. Lesser known aides, like Sean Cairncross, a former senior adviser, have announced their resignations and then lingered for months in a building next door to the White House, continuing to collect government salaries while waiting for their next gig.
Some staff members do leave the traditional way: Hope Hicks, the former communications director, was sent off with a handshake and a kiss from Mr. Trump. Nikki R. Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, was given the backdrop of the Oval Office to announce her resignation, the president nodding approvingly by her side.
But it is usually not that civil.
The White House often gives different versions of why staff members have left. That was the case with Mr. Sims, whom the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, praised publicly at the time of his departure.
And Mr. Trump usually tries to spin resignations as firings, a reaction driven by a hypersensitivity to the perception that anyone would ever want to leave and, according to former aides, to his fervent hope that anyone who does is not successful on their own terms. The result is that the president often denigrates a former staff member’s performance after the fact.
Then there are those like Mr. Cairncross, departing officials who leave on good terms and have been allowed to linger, finishing up projects or working part time.
In past administrations, there has been a room, referred to as the “Aloha Room,” in the Eisenhower Building set aside for departing staff members. There, they would sit through briefings about their post-government obligations to protect classified information, and to help their replacements transition into the job being filled, according to someone familiar with the process. That process, however, never lasted longer than a few pay periods, or about two to four weeks. In the Trump administration, however, some aides have stayed there for months.
Mr. Cairncross, who served as a senior adviser to Reince Priebus when he was chief of staff at a yearly salary of $165,000, remained in limbo in the Eisenhower Building for months after his boss abruptly left the administration. It was not clear what Mr. Cairncross’s role would be under Mr. Priebus’s successor, John F. Kelly, but nobody officially let him go.
Another former top White House adviser, Rick Dearborn, spent about two months in the building after leaving the West Wing, transitioning out of his job as deputy chief of staff.
Others had cleaner exits, or filled an existing void in a White House where filling jobs has become more difficult. Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, spent just over a month in the Eisenhower Building halfway house, after leaving the podium behind in July 2017. Mr. Spicer continued earning his government salary of $179,700 while helping the press operation with the transition to Ms. Sanders and focusing on what was next. That included a book about his tenure, which Mr. Trump did not insult.
Raj Shah, the former principal deputy press secretary, gave up his office in the West Wing last June, with plans of leaving the administration after helping with the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. But he was asked to continue on with a new title, “communications adviser,” playing an ancillary role as a pinch-hitter on the communications team from the hulking government building across the street until he finally left the White House last month.
Some aides have tried to disappear across the street. Zachary D. Fuentes, the deputy chief of staff, is still on the payroll, even though the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, brought in his own deputy, Emma Doyle.
Government watchdogs said the practice of aides staying on indefinitely raised red flags. Norman L. Eisen, who served as Mr. Obama’s ethics counsel, said the practice could be a violation of ethics rules because “government resources must be used for a public purpose.”
Ultimately, former aides said, the uncoordinated process of leaving the Trump administration — from confusion over who was fired, who resigned and who left but did not really leave — all comes back to Mr. Trump himself, who brooks no criticism from anyone who ever worked for him or might reflect badly on him.
The question of whether Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, was fired or resigned was so convoluted that the only definitive takeaway was that he was “out.” It was first described as a “mutually agreed” upon ending between Mr. Kelly and Mr. Bannon. But Mr. Bannon pushed back, more successfully than some others, claiming he had submitted a resignation letter two weeks before his departure was announced.
Normally, Mr. Trump does not do the firing himself. The president had his former bodyman, Keith Schiller, deliver a letter to James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, alerting him of his termination. Rex W. Tillerson, the former secretary of state, was originally given a warning by Mr. Kelly that his time was up.
In a Twitter post that ultimately made the decision final, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Tillerson for his service. But after Mr. Tillerson called the president “undisciplined,” Mr. Trump escalated. “He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He was lazy as hell.”
Sometimes, Mr. Trump just seems to want to make sure everyone knows who is in charge.
Mr. Priebus thought he would have a week to tie up loose ends before an official announcement of his departure. But Mr. Trump surprised him by tweeting out the news.
When Mr. Trump and his next chief of staff, Mr. Kelly, ironed out a departure plan at the end of last year, Mr. Kelly planned to make his own announcement at a senior staff dinner at the White House. But the president upended those plans and broke the news first, telling reporters that Mr. Kelly would be leaving at the end of December.
In the case of Mr. Sims, aides had tried for days to persuade Mr. Trump not to give more fuel to the fire by commenting on the book and elevating it. But the president instead chose to follow a familiar playbook.
“A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” he tweeted Tuesday morning. “He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!”