Kirstjen Nielsen Is the Latest Trump Official to Meet an Unceremonious End

WASHINGTON — In recent months, Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, had become a regular presence eating dinner at the Trump International Hotel. She had been heckled and booed when dining out after becoming the face of some of President Trump’s most hard-line immigration policies, like family separations, and her affinity for the hotel, a gathering place for the president’s supporters, seemed like a sign that she felt safer on the inside.

But her status inside the White House, where she was subject to dressing-downs from Mr. Trump during cabinet meetings and constant criticism by the president, was not much more secure.

So when Ms. Nielsen went to the White House on Sunday night to meet with the president to discuss some grievances, she was also prepared to avoid a messy end by letting Mr. Trump, who is known for not personally firing people, off the hook. After Mr. Trump made it clear that he was looking for a change, Ms. Nielsen told him she would resign, ridding him of a cabinet secretary who had long disappointed him.

Ms. Nielsen’s departure, announced Sunday night, was abrupt but hardly unforeseen, the latest in a long and growing conga line of senior officials who have left the administration unceremoniously because of their own frustrations with the president, or because of the president’s obvious disappointment in them. Usually, it is both.

Mr. Trump has ripped into Ms. Nielsen, holding her personally responsible for the uptick in crossings at the southwestern border. And Ms. Nielsen wanted to tell Mr. Trump that she was upset not to have been notified beforehand about his sudden withdrawal of Ron Vitiello, the nominee to serve as Immigration and Customs Enforcement director, and that she was frustrated at being pulled from security meetings in Europe last week and ordered to appear by the president’s side on a trip to the border, according to someone close to Ms. Nielsen.

The end for Ms. Nielsen was something that has become familiar in the Trump administration: a high-ranking official like Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, or Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, leaving with a reputation in need of rehabilitation.

“Normally, people just resign,” said Ronald A. Klain, who served as chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “The president sends word through an intermediary that he’s unhappy, and you resign. The president says something nice about them and then they leave.

“But here, quitting isn’t good enough.”

Some exits have been more humiliating than others. Since the departure of Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Trump has referred to him as “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.” After calling the departure of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a “retirement” and praising his service, Mr. Trump turned on him once he understood that the resignation was an affront to him. “What’s he done for me?” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mattis. “How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good.”

After years of haranguing Mr. Sessions in public and in private, Mr. Trump sent John F. Kelly, his former chief of staff, to demand his resignation in November, and he has not let up on him since he left office. In a speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Mr. Trump mimicked Mr. Sessions’s southern accent while discussing his decision to recuse himself from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign.

Mr. Kelly later suffered his own ignoble end. After he and Mr. Trump 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 chose to break the news first, telling reporters that Mr. Kelly would be departing at the end of December.

Although all involved tried to put the best face on the Sunday meeting between Mr. Trump and Ms. Nielsen — someone familiar with it said the president had even asked her if she would want to return in another position — the two competed afterward for how to spin its contents.

Within minutes of the meeting’s end, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Ms. Nielsen was “leaving her position,” making it sound as if she was the latest cabinet secretary he had ousted online. Ms. Nielsen then posted her resignation letter on Twitter, notably leaving out any mention or praise for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump has yet to criticize her publicly since. But Ms. Nielsen has already absorbed more than her share of criticism for her role in implementing the president’s policies.

Immigration and civil rights groups have been pressuring Fortune 500 companies to blacklist former Trump officials like Ms. Nielsen, who have promoted his immigration policies, writing that they “should not be allowed to seek refuge in your boardrooms or corner offices.” Many other former administration officials have not experienced the post-White House career bump that has become part of the payoff for putting in grueling hours on government salaries.

With a few exceptions, like the smooth send-off for Nikki R. Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, and a glowing farewell to Linda McMahon, the former administrator of the Small Business Administration, Mr. Trump’s top aides often find themselves damaged by their former boss in real time, or on delay.

Even those who have managed to stay in Mr. Trump’s favor, like Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, have a sense of gallows humor about what might ultimately befall them.

“I’ll be there until he tweets me out of the office,” Mr. Pompeo recently joked at an event in his home state of Kansas, when asked about his future in politics.

For her part, Ms. Nielsen appears to be intent on trying to minimize the damage to her reputation, with surrogates out defending her record.

“The so-called immigration hard-liners have flailed about since the beginning of the administration, giving bad advice to the president and misdirecting resources toward the wrong solutions to the wrong problems,” said Thad Bingel, who was a senior homeland security official in the Bush administration and served as an aide to Ms. Nielsen during her Senate confirmation.

“They apparently don’t want anyone like a Secretary Nielsen or Secretary Kelly, who deals in reality, to tell them or the president any of this.”