The controversial spokesman was known for testy exchanges with reporters amid tumultuous tenure as administration’s public face
Sean Spicer has resigned as White House press secretary, bringing to an end a tumultuous six months as the public face of Donald Trump’s administration.
Spicer stepped down after the president tapped Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier and longtime Trump supporter, as the new White House communications director. In his farewell comments, Spicer said there were “too many cooks in the kitchen”.
The White House had been without a communications director since May, when Mike Dubke resigned from the role in the first personnel shakeup of the Trump administration. Spicer had taken on the responsibilities associated with the job in the interim and strongly opposed Trump’s decision to hire Scaramucci, according to reports.
In his first public comments since the news broke, Spicer told CNN’s Dana Bash: “I wanted to give the president and the new team a clean slate.”
Trump has lost the public face of his administration after just six months, one of the shortest tenures of any White House press secretary. This will fuel questions over the president's judgment and whether being his spokesperson is an impossible job.
Sean Spicer's sudden departure was triggered by the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, a move likely to deepen divisions among White House staff. Divisions are likely to mean more leaks to the media from competing factions and a greater sense of turmoil. What began as "made in America week" has instead been a rough ride including revelations of a second meeting with Vladimir Putin, a bizarre interview in the New York Times (which apparently blindsided Spicer) and now Spicer's resignation.
Among the president's diehard supporters, however, the loss of Spicer seems unlikely to have a major impact. He had hardly made himself indispensable and Trump remains his own spokesman.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Spicer complimented Scaramucci, saying: “It’ll be great, he’s a tough guy,” and in a tweet, Spicer said it was an “honor & a privilege” to serve President Trump.
Late on Friday, Trump said in a statement: “I am grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my Administration and the American people. I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities: Just look at his great television ratings.”
In a separate statement, he said of Scaramucci: “He has been a great supporter and will now help implement key aspects of our agenda while leading the communications team. We have accomplished so much, and we are being given credit for so little.”
When Scaramucci appeared in the White House briefing room for the first time, he praised Spicer for doing a “great job” and told reporters that the president was not off track but there was some “media bias” against him.
The deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, appeared with Scaramucci, who announced she would be replacing Spicer as press secretary.
Scaramucci offered a marked contrast to Spicer. The hedge fund mogul seemed relaxed at the White House lectern and expressed a desire to improve the administration’s relationship with the media.
The newly minted communications director also lavished accolades on his new boss, saying Trump had “some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history”. Scaramucci also said several times that he “loved” the president.
Trump’s plan to hire Scaramucci was first reported by Axios late Thursday, kicking off a fresh round of allegations of infighting within the White House. Scaramucci is a major Republican donor who supported Trump in the general election, but initially backed the Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, and the former Florida governor Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries.
His appointment was apparently fought not just by Spicer, but also by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, according to a source close to the White House. But the prominent Wall Street financier had the blessing of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter, who maintain a strong influence in the West Wing. Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, was reportedly also against the move, but sought to downplay the discord, telling the AP he was “100%” behind Scaramucci.
The shakeup was nonetheless considered a sign of Priebus’s diminished power in the administration. If Trump’s legislative agenda on Capitol Hill had been more successful, the chief of staff might have had more sway, a Trump ally said, while noting the White House had been aware Spicer would resign if Scaramucci was hired.
“They needed to make a change. They needed someone who could go on television,” the ally said.
“This was the president’s decision.”
Spicer’s future behind the briefing room’s podium had long been tenuous, as his tenure was marked by almost continuous controversy.
From his very first appearance before the cameras, when he angrily chastised the media over the crowd size at Trump’s presidential inauguration, Spicer swiftly emerged as a ridiculed figure for his aggressive attitude toward journalists, false statements and a series of gaffes.
He was memorably mocked by the actor Melissa McCarthy on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, an act that deeply irked Trump, who saw Spicer’s portrayal by a woman as a sign of weakness and questioned Spicer’s loyalty early on his in tenure. Reports would frequently surface of the White House searching for possible replacements for Spicer, and in perhaps the most damaging blow to Spicer, the press secretary, a devout Catholic, was shut out of a meeting with Pope Francis duringTrump’s first foreign trip as president.
Spicer’s presence behind the podium was substantially scaled back following the trip, with Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary, regularly conducting the daily briefings.
The Trump-Spicer marriage may have been destined for an early divorce from the start. Spicer, who previously worked as the communications director of the Republican National Committee, was the choice of the former RNC chair Priebus, who, following the election, was appointed as Trump’s chief of staff. Long part of the Washington establishment, both Spicer and Priebus have often been viewed with skepticism by Trump supporters, even as they have proven fiercely loyal to the president.
On his own first day on the job, Scaramucci largely played it safe, dodging policy questions and noting the Russia investigation was “not in his zip code”.
He lent credence, however, to Trump’s unfounded claim of massive voter fraud in the 2016 election, saying: “If the president says it, let me do a little more research on that but there’s probably some level of truth in it.”
Eventually, Scaramucci left the lectern to Huckabee Sanders – but not before blowing an air kiss to the assembled press.
Spicer’s resignation, first reported on Friday by the New York Times, comes amid a turbulent period for the Trump administration, even by its raucous standards.
The White House has been plagued by the federal investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, with fresh revelations involving a meeting with a Russian lawyer that included the president’s son Donald Jr, Kushner and Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
According to emails released last week, Donald Jr accepted the meeting under the pretense that he would be offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton and was explicitly informed of an effort by the Russian government to prop up his father’s campaign.
The exchange offered the first glimpse of the Trump campaign’s willingness to collude with Moscow. Kushner, Donald Jr and Manafort will all give testimony to Congress next week.
It was disclosed on Thursday that Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, will no longer lead the legal team tasked with responding to the Russia investigation.
Also this week, Trump publicly regretted appointing Jeff Sessions as attorney general over Sessions’ recusal from matters to do with Russia, and for his deputy’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel investigating the Russia links.
As for Spicer, he and Priebus sat down with Fox News Host Sean Hannity on Friday. Calling the president “gracious” throughout the process, Spicer said about his decision to leave: “I just thought it was in the best interest of our communications department, of our press organization to not have too many cooks in the kitchen,” according to excerpts from the show, airing Friday night at 10pm ET.
Spicer took a farewell swing at the Washington press corps, accusing it of liberal bias and a click-bait mentality. “They’re not there for the facts and the pursuit of the truth. Rather, they’re trying to figure out, how do I get on TV, how do I become a YouTube star. And that’s disappointing.”
Priebus said: “Sean leaving doesn’t mean that Sean isn’t going to be out there supporting President Trump and it doesn’t mean that President Trump isn’t going to be out there supporting Sean Spicer. I’ve seen how the world around the president works and it’s very healthy and he cares about his people.”