Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned Friday after denouncing chaos in the West Wing and telling President Donald Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.
After offering Scaramucci the communications job Friday morning, Trump asked Spicer to stay on as press secretary. But Spicer told Trump that he believed the appointment of Scaramucci was a major mistake and said he was resigning, according to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange.
In one of his first official acts, Scaramucci, who founded the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital and is a Fox News contributor, joined Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Spicer’s chief deputy, in the White House briefing room and announced that she would succeed Spicer as press secretary.
He 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.
Sanders said Trump was grateful for Spicer’s service and that the president believes Spicer will succeed going forward. “Just look at his great television ratings,” Trump said in a statement read by Sanders.
Spicer’s rumored departure has been one of the longest-running internal sagas in an administration brimming with dissension and intrigue. A former Republican National Committee spokesman and strategist, Spicer was a frequent target of the president’s ire – and correctives – during the first few months of the administration.
His turbulent tenure as the president’s top spokesman was marked by a combative style with the news media that spawned a caricature of him on “Saturday Night Live.” He had hoped to last a year. He lasted six months and a day.
The resignation is a serious blow to the embattled White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party chairman who brought Spicer into the West Wing despite skepticism from Trump, who initially questioned his loyalty. Scaramucci described his relationship with Priebus as brotherly where they “rough each other up.” He called Priebus a “good friend.”
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has grown critical of both Spicer and Priebus, whom he regards as party establishment figures who operate out of self-interest.
Kushner also supported Trump’s decision to supplant Marc Kasowitz as his lead attorney on matters pertaining to Russia, according to people familiar with the situation.
Scaramucci was to meet with Priebus on Friday, according to a West Wing official – and applause could be heard in the second-floor communications hallway when Scaramucci was introduced. Priebus denied that there is friction with Scaramucci.
For his part, Spicer said it had been an “honor” and “privilege” to serve Trump.
Senior officials, including Sanders, Spicer’s top deputy, were said to be stunned by the sudden shuffle.
During the transition, Trump had planned to appoint Scaramucci, a 52-year-old Harvard Law graduate from Long Island, New York, as director of his office of public liaison, but the offer was pulled at the request of Priebus over concerns about Scaramucci’s overseas investments.
His appointment Friday came two months after the previous communications director, Mike Dubke, stepped down. Trump was frustrated with Priebus over the slow pace of finding a replacement, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the situation.
Trump made the appointment over the objection of Priebus, who thought Scaramucci lacked the requisite organizational or political experience. But the president believed Scaramucci, a ferocious defender of Trump’s on cable television, was best equipped to play the same role in-house, and he offered him a role with far-reaching powers independent of Priebus’.
Spicer flatly rejected the president’s offer of a position subordinate to Scaramucci, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange.
The appointment of Scaramucci, a favorite of Trump’s earliest campaign supporters, was backed by the president’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law and adviser Kushner and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the officials said.
The job of press secretary, once regarded as among the most coveted slots in Washington, a steppingstone to fame and a big post-government payday, has lost much of its allure under a president who tweets his opinions and considers himself to be his best spokesman.
Spicer, according to several people close to him, was tired of being blindsided by Trump, most recently this week when the president gave a lengthy interview to The New York Times in which he questioned his appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He was also weary of the daily dressings-down and instituted the highly contentious practice of holding off-air briefings, less so to snub reporters than to avoid Trump’s critiques of his performance, according to one of Spicer’s friends.
Shortly after Spicer’s resignation became public, the White House press office announced Sanders would hold the first on-air briefing since June 29.