One of the popular betting games in Washington D.C. was on how long White House press secretary Sean Spicer could handle working as President Donald Trump’s spokesperson. The answer turned out to be six months and one day.
Spicer’s decision appears to be linked to the appointment of a new White House communications director, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci. The people with knowledge of the decision spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the personnel matter publicly.
Spicer’s daily press briefings had become must-see television until recent weeks when he took on a more behind-the-scenes role. Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has largely taken over the briefings, turning them into an off-camera event.
Spicer 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 chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair, and several of the lower-ranking aides in the White House communications shop.
Priebus told media outlets that he supports Scaramucci “100 percent,” despite reportedly trying to prevent the financier from getting multiple administration positions.
“We go back a long, long way and are very good friends,” Priebus said of Scaramucci. “All good here.”
Scaramucci is expected to play a visible role as one of Trump’s defenders on television. 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 issues. One of the officials said Spicer objected to Trump’s vision for the future of the press operation.
Spicer’s resignation set off a chaotic scene in the White House briefing room, as journalists gathered near a doorway seeking more details on his departure. White House officials had yet to announce the timing of the daily briefing – and who would be conducting it.
Spicer’s tenure got off to a rocky start. On Trump’s first full day in office, Spicer 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 part of the culture in the way few people in his job have, particularly through an indelible 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 portable podium, willing to attack the press.
Spicer remained loyal to Trump, but he frequently battled perceptions that he was not plugged in to what the president was thinking, and had to worry that Trump was watching and critiquing his performance from the Oval Office.
Throughout the start of the administration, there was always the possibility that Trump would undermine something Spicer said by simply sending out a tweet.
President Donald Trump’s legal team is evaluating potential conflicts of interest among members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. The revelation comes as Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling appears likely to include some of the Trump family’s business ties.
Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s external legal team, told media outlets Thursday that the lawyers “will consistently evaluate the issue of conflicts and raise them in the appropriate venue.”
Two of the people with knowledge of that process say those efforts include probing the political affiliations of Mueller’s investigators and their past work history. Trump himself has publicly challenged Mueller, declaring this week that the former FBI director would be crossing a line if he investigated the president’s personal business ties.
The focus on potential conflicts with Mueller’s team may well be an effort to distract from snowballing federal and congressional investigations into possible election year coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia. While Trump has assailed the probes as a partisan “witch hunt,” the investigations have increasingly ensnared his family and close advisers, including son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.
As the investigations intensify, Trump’s legal team is also undergoing a shakeup. New York-based attorney Marc Kasowitz, whose unconventional style has irked some White House aides, is seen as a diminishing presence in the operation, according to the two people with knowledge of the matter.
John Dowd, an experienced Washington attorney, is expected to step up his role on the president’s outside legal team, which also includes Sekulow. They’re just a few of the fast-growing cadre of attorneys stepping up to represent the president, his family and close advisers as the investigations continue to expand.
In another sign of a shakeup, Mark Corallo, who has been working as a spokesman for the legal team, is no longer part of the operation, according to those familiar with the situation. They insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with the investigations, which threaten to shadow his administration for months or even years. In an interview Wednesday with The New York Times, Trump warned Mueller that it would be a “violation” if he investigated the Trump family’s financial entanglements.
Mueller’s mandate in overseeing the federal probe is broad. He’s authorized to investigate Russia’s election interference, any potential Trump campaign ties and any matters that stem from those inquiries.
Sekulow told the media that the president “has not received any indication” from the special counsel that he personally is under investigation.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump has no intention of firing Mueller “at this time,” but she did not rule out doing so in the future. She also reiterated Trump’s concern about the scope of Mueller’s investigation, saying it “should stay in the confines of meddling, Russia meddling, and the election and nothing beyond that.”
California Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Mueller has the authority to investigate any ties the Trump family has to Russia, “including financial, and anything that arises. That is his duty.”
The White House push against the special counsel’s probe comes as the outlines of the investigation are beginning to become clearer.
Bloomberg reported that Mueller’s investigators are looking into Trump business transactions with Russians including apartment purchases in his buildings, a controversial New York development project, the multimillion-dollar sale of a Florida home and the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow.
The Times also reported that federal investigators have been in talks with Deutsche Bank about obtaining records related to his finances, and that the bank expects it will have to provide information to Mueller.
Deutsche Bank has been one of the few major institutions willing to regularly lend to Trump, who alienated large banks in New York with his past financial troubles and confrontational behavior as a borrower. Over the years, the bank’s cumulative loans to Trump add up to billions, and loans originally worth $300 million remain outstanding.
But lending to Trump hasn’t always been easy for Deutsche Bank. In 2008, he sued the bank for $3 billion after he defaulted on a loan for Trump Tower Chicago, using a novel legal theory that he shouldn’t be held to the terms of his contract due to Deutsche Bank’s involvement in the broader financial crisis.
That eventually led the bank to grant Trump some concessions on the loan, but the suit scarred his relationship with its commercial lending division. Afterward, Deutsche’s Trump relationship was transferred to Rosemary Vrablic, a banker in Deutsche’s private wealth division.
In yet another development, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci is under consideration to join the administration as communications director, according to two people with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Scaramucci is a frequent defender of the president on television and was a fixture at Trump Tower during Trump’s transition.