Spicer resigns, Sessions staying put...for now

- Your panelists this week include Bob Price - associate editor for Breitbart Texas, Houston attorney and progressive commentator Nyanza Moore, Chicano educator and activist Tony Diaz, Majic 102.1 Sunday Morning Live radio show host Marcus Davis, longtime Super Neighborhood leader Tomaro Bell and Republican strategist Jessica Colon join host Greg Groogan for a lively discussion regarding the resignation of Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary, the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director and apparent friction between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly resigned Friday over President Donald Trump's decision to tap a camera-ready financier to lead the beleaguered White House communications team. The departing spokesman said the president "could benefit from a clean slate" as he seeks to steady operations amid the Russia investigations and ahead of a health care showdown.

Spicer, whose daily briefings once dominated cable television and delighted late-night comics, quit in protest over the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director. Spicer denounced what he considered Scaramucci's lack of qualifications, according to people familiar with the situation.

As his first act on the job, Scaramucci, a polished television commentator and Harvard Law graduate, announced from the White House briefing room that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would take Spicer's job. She had been Spicer's deputy.

The shake-up among the president spokespeople comes as Trump is suffering from dismal approval ratings and struggling to advance his legislative proposals. As his effort to replace Barack Obama's health care law crumbled this week, the president continued to vent frustration about the attention devoted to investigations of allegations of his election campaign's connections to Russia. Trump has blamed his own messengers - as well as the "fake news" media - for his woes.

Trump, who watches the press briefings closely and believes he is his own best spokesman, 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, who said Spicer had been gracious in showing him around on Friday, quickly took center stage, parrying questions from reporters and praising Trump in a 37-minute charm offensive. He flashed the television skills that Trump has long valued: He commended 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.

Spicer said during a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press 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 press briefings had become must-see TV until recent weeks when he took a more behind-the-scenes role. Sanders has largely taken over the briefings, turning them into off-camera events.

Friday night, Trump tweeted, "Sean Spicer is a wonderful person who took tremendous abuse from the Fake News Media - but his future is bright!"

The White House had been looking for a new communications director for several weeks, but struggled to attract an experienced Republican hand. Scaramucci, a former Democrat - like Trump - who once called his new boss a "hack politician," began seriously talking to the White House about the position this week, and the president offered him the job Friday morning.

A person with knowledge of the decision said Trump has been impressed by Scaramucci's defense of the White House on television and by his handling of a recent incident with CNN. The cable channel retracted a story about Scaramucci and fired three journalists.

A shift in briefing-room tone and style was immediate. Scaramucci's delivery was smooth and polished. Spicer, who displayed a sometimes-fiery and occasionally flustered demeanor in on-camera exchanges with reporters, became widely known, particularly through an impersonation by Melissa McCarthy on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." McCarthy's signature move was to plow down reporters with the podium when exasperated by questioning.

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.

He 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 chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair.

Priebus told The Associated Press 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, powerful senior aide Jared Kushner, had known Scaramucci for years from New York and pushed for his hire.

Scaramucci, a frequent visitor to Trump Tower during the transition, 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.

As a Wall Street titan-turned-TV talking head, Scaramucci has no government experience and no experience crafting communication strategy around policy. The White House said he will officially take over the role on Aug. 15.

It's unclear whether the new leadership will lead to a more open White House.

Scaramucci did not commit to putting briefings back on camera full-time. He also offered a level of support for some of Trump's more outlandish statements, including his unsupported claim that millions of illegal votes were 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 Trump's efforts to push back against media reports he doesn't like - and would do a better job of selling his 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.

Scaramucci notably said he reports directly to the president, not to the chief of staff - a highly unusual arrangement for a communications director and a possible reflection that Priebus' standing with Trump is often uncertain.

Back in January, 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 remained loyal to Trump but frequently battled perceptions that he was not plugged in to what the president was thinking.

The resignation comes 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.


Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Julie Pace, Darlene Superville, Vivian Salama in Washington and David Bauder in New York contributed to this report.


Follow Ken Thomas at http://twitter.com/kthomasDC and Jill Colvin at http://twitter.com/@colvinj

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions, publicly skewered by his boss for stepping clear of the Russia-Trump investigations, declared Thursday he still loves his job and plans to stay on. Yet Donald Trump's airing of his long-simmering frustrations with Sessions raised significant new questions about the future of the nation's top prosecutor.

The White House was quick to insist that the president "has confidence" in Sessions. However, the episode underscored how the attorney general's crime-fighting agenda is being overshadowed by his fractured relationship with Trump and the continuing investigations into allegations of Russian ties to the Republican candidate's presidential campaign.

The challenges for Sessions were laid bare Thursday when the attorney general, at a Justice Department news conference to announce the takedown of a mammoth internet drug marketplace, faced zero questions about that case and was instead grilled on his reaction to being excoriated by Trump in a New York Times interview a day earlier. The news conference on the drug case was quickly ended once it was clear reporters would only ask about the interview.

Sessions did not directly address his relationship to Trump except to say he was still carrying out the agenda of the president.

"I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself," Sessions said. "We love this job, we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate."

Asked how he could effectively serve if he didn't have Trump's confidence, he responded, "We're serving right now. The work we're doing today is the kind of work we intend to continue."

Asked at the White House about Trump's feelings on Sessions, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "Clearly, he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general."

It all followed Trump's statements to the Times that he never would have tapped the former Alabama senator for the job had he known a recusal was coming. Sessions took himself off the Justice Department-led case in March following revelations he'd failed to disclose his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. That placed the investigation with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who in May appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel.

Several people close to Trump - including his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, who has also been ensnared in the Russia probe - have told the president that they, too, believe Sessions' decision to recuse himself was a mistake, according to three White House and outside advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

In the same Wednesday interview, Trump lashed out at Mueller, Rosenstein, James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired, and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey.

"Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president," Trump told the newspaper. "How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair - and that's a mild word - to the president."

The broadside against Sessions in the interview was not a calculated ploy to force the attorney general to resign but rather Trump's frustration with his longtime ally bubbling to the surface, the advisers said. For weeks, the president has seethed about Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the federal investigations into whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia during last year's election - Probes that have shadowed the administration from the outset.

That others agree Sessions' recusal was a mistake has only fueled Trump's frustration with the investigation dogging the White House. Despite his protests to the contrary, Trump continues to closely follow cable TV news coverage, and he frequently interrupts conversations about other topics to complain bitterly about the probe or, on occasion, predict that it will soon be behind him.

The advisers said the president viewed Sessions' move as an act of disloyalty - arguably the most grievous offense in the president's mind - and was angry that Sessions did not consult with him ahead of time.

Yet the frustration goes both ways. At the Justice Department, there's displeasure that developments on Trump and Russia routinely drown out work that officials are trying to highlight. Much like Thursday, a May rollout of a sentencing policy shift was overshadowed by Trump's firing of Comey that same week.

At one point, Sessions privately told Trump he was willing to resign his post, but the president did not accept the offer.

And Sessions has given no public hints that he plans to leave, traveling the country for speeches to outline a tough-on-crime approach to violence and immigration. He kept his scheduled appointments Thursday. "I'm totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way," he said.

The first U.S. senator to endorse Trump during the presidential run, Sessions bonded with him over shared hard-line immigration views. Some of Sessions' long-serving advisers are now working alongside the president in the West Wing.

Defense attorney William Jeffress, who represented former President Richard Nixon, said he's concerned that Trump's rhetoric about Sessions reveals a larger misunderstanding of the attorney general's role.

"I really think that the president needs to understand and appreciate the independence of law enforcement," Jeffress said, adding that the president is "just wrong" to look at the attorney general as someone responsible for protecting the Trump's personal interest.

A Sessions resignation could throw Mueller's investigation into uncertainty. Trump would nominate a replacement and could seek assurances that his pick would not recuse himself from the investigations.

Trump raised the prospect of firing Mueller in his interview with the Times, suggesting he had damaging information on the former FBI director. The president also said Mueller's selection for the job was a conflict of interest because Trump had spoken with him about returning to the FBI after the firing of Comey.

"There were many other conflicts that I haven't said, but I will at some point," Trump said.

The president has repeatedly told those close to him that he fears there is a movement underway, fueled in part by Comey, Rosenstein and potentially Mueller, to discredit his presidency. He has denied that his campaign had any contacts with Russia during the election, though that assertion has been challenged by his son's acknowledgment that he accepted a meeting that was billed as part of the Russian government's efforts to tar Democrat Hillary Clinton.


Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Sadie Gurman and Chad Day contributed to this report.

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