Trump press chief quits
Scaramucci hiring said to prompt Spicer exit
WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday after a six-month tenure, saying President Donald Trump’s communications team “could benefit from a clean slate” as the White House seeks to steady operations during the Russia investigations and ahead of a health care showdown.
Spicer quit in protest over the hiring of a new White House communications director, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci, objecting to what Spicer considered his lack of qualifications, as well as the direction of the press operation, according to people familiar with the situation.
Scaramucci, a television commentator and Harvard Law graduate, quickly took center stage at a 37-minute briefing, parrying questions from reporters and commending Trump.
As his first act on the job, Scaramucci announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be the new press secretary.
She had been Spicer’s deputy.
Trump, who watches the press briefings closely, in a statement saluted Spicer’s “great ratings” on TV and said he was “grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my administration and the American people.”
Scaramucci’s appointment Friday came two months after the previous communications director, Mike Dubke, stepped down after three months on the job. Trump was frustrated with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus over the slow pace of finding a replacement, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the situation.
Scaramucci, in an appearance after his appointment was made official, praised Trump’s political instincts and competitiveness, cracked a few self-deprecating jokes and battled with reporters who categorized the West Wing as dysfunctional, saying “there is a disconnect” between the media and the way the public sees the president.
“The president has really good karma, and the world turns back to him,” Scaramucci said.
He also said he had great respect for Spicer, adding, “I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.” But he acknowledged the awkwardness of Spicer’s resignation. “This is obviously a difficult situation to be in,” Scaramucci said.
Spicer said during a brief phone conversation that he felt it would be best for Scaramucci to build his own operation “and chart a new way forward.” He tweeted that it had been an “honor” and “privilege” to serve Trump and that he would remain in his post through August.
His decision to quit took advisers inside and outside the White House by surprise, according to people with knowledge of the decision. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the personnel matter publicly.
Spicer’s daily briefings had become must-watch television until recent weeks when he took on a more behind-the-scenes role. Sanders has largely taken over the briefings, turning them into off-camera events.
On Friday night, Trump tweeted, “Sean Spicer is a wonderful person who took tremendous abuse from the Fake News Media — but his future is bright!”
A person with knowledge of the decision said Trump has been impressed by Scaramucci’s defense of the White House on television and his handling of a recent incident with CNN. The cable channel retracted a story about Scaramucci and fired three journalists.
A shift in tone and style was immediate. Unlike Spicer, who had an at-times combative relationship with the news media, Scaramucci was warm and more measured as he took questions.
He did not commit to putting the briefings back on camera full time. He also offered a level of support to some of Trump’s more contentious statements, including his claim that millions of votes were illegally cast in the 2016 election.
“If the president says it … there’s probably some level of truth to that,” he said.
He also made clear that he would continue the West Wing’s plan to push back against media reports it doesn’t like — and would do a better job of selling its victories.
“The president is a winner. And we’re going to do a lot of winning,” said Scaramucci, who blew a kiss to the press corps before departing.
Spicer had long sought the strategic communications job for himself and had been managing that role along with his press secretary duties for nearly two months.
Spicer had spent several years leading communications at the Republican National Committee before helping Trump’s campaign in the general election. He is close to White House Priebus, the former RNC chairman, and several of the lower-ranking aides in the White House communications shop.
Priebus said he supports Scaramucci “100 percent,” despite reportedly trying to prevent the financier from getting multiple administration positions. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and her husband, senior aide Jared Kushner, had known Scaramucci for years in New York and pushed for his hire.
But Spicer and other officials questioned his hiring as communications director ahead of the president’s push to overhaul the tax system and other policy matters.
Spicer and other staff had been feeling that they finally had the press shop operating effectively, aside from matters related to the Russia investigation, said one of the people familiar with the situation.
Scaramucci notably said he reports directly to the president, not to the chief of staff — an unusual arrangement for a communications director.
Scaramucci, 53, a campaign fundraiser for Trump and regular adviser during the presidential transition, has been mentioned for multiple jobs in the administration, most recently as ambassador to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He’s also been considered as head of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
He agreed in January to sell his approximately 45 percent stake in SkyBridge Capital, which he founded. The buyer group included a subsidiary of HNA Group, the Chinese conglomerate, as well as a firm called RON Transatlantic.
Spicer’s tenure got off to a rocky start. On Trump’s first full day in office, he lambasted journalists over coverage of the crowd size at the inauguration and stormed out of the briefing room without answering questions.
Spicer, who often displayed a fiery demeanor in tense on-camera exchanges with reporters, became widely known, particularly through an impersonation by Melissa McCarthy on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
She portrayed Spicer as a hostile figure who tore through the briefing room on a motorized lectern, willing to attack the press.
Spicer remained loyal to Trump but frequently battled perceptions that he was not plugged into what the president was thinking.
The resignation occurred a day after Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the president’s outside legal team, left his post. And in a separate move, former White House aide Katie Walsh is returning to the RNC, spokesman Ryan Mahoney said. Walsh will serve as an adviser on data and digital issues, and the appointment is unrelated to the White House personnel changes, he said.
Anthony Scaramucci, incoming White House communications director, follows new White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders into the briefing room Friday at the White House.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer walks down the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building toward the White House on Friday in Washington. Spicer resigned his position Friday, saying the White House “could benefit from a clean slate.”
Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, takes a question Friday during the daily press briefing at the White House.