White House spokesman Spicer out in shake-up

By AFP/Andrew Beatty   July 21, 2017 | 05:25 pm PT
White House spokesman Spicer out in shake-up
White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington January. Photo by Reuters/File Photo
He quit after six months. 

White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly resigned Friday in protest at a major shake-up of Donald Trump's scandal-tainted administration, as pressure mounted from a broadening investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

Spicer quit after Trump named Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier and one-time critic, as the new White House communications director -- a role Spicer had hoped to play.

"It's been an honor & a privilege to serve @POTUS @realDonaldTrump & this amazing country. I will continue my service through August," Spicer tweeted.

In a written statement, Trump said he was "grateful" for Spicer's work and praised his "great television ratings" -- a reference to Spicer's keenly watched, combative and often-satirized press conferences.

Spicer was replaced by deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump used the occasion of Spicer's departure to lash out at the media, claiming his administration had "accomplished so much" and been "given credit for so little."

"The good news is the people get it even if the media doesn't," Trump added.

Spicer's resignation marked an escalation of tensions within an administration that has seen its legislative agenda falter at the same time it has been buffeted by an investigation into alleged collusion with Russia.

In another blow, Mark Corallo -- who was coordinating the Trump legal team's public response to the Russia crisis -- told AFP that he too had stepped down.

Neither Corallo nor Spicer have so far offered a rationale for their departures, but both step down as Trump wades into ever more perilous legal territory.

After months of denials, the White House was recently rocked by emails showing Donald Trump's eldest son and two top aides met with a Russian lawyer to get dirt on the Republican billionaire's 2016 election rival Hillary Clinton.

In response, Trump aides have floated the idea of pre-emptive presidential pardons and Trump himself has warned investigators not to look into his family finances.

"The president maintains pardon powers like any president would," Sanders said during her first briefing as press secretary on Friday. "But there are no announcements or planned announcements on that front."

Spicer's decision appears to have happened quickly, with neither he nor Sanders giving any indication of changes afoot when they had drinks with a group of journalists on Thursday evening.

'On track' 

Scaramucci -- who took the podium for the first time -- stuck a collegial tone as he took questions from the press, while playing up his own ties with Trump.

He dismissed reports of infighting, telling reporters: "I think the White House is on track."

"I've seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, standing in the key and hitting foul shots and swishing them. He sinks three-foot putts. I don't see this as a guy who's ever under siege."

Scaramucci, who once called Trump a "hack politician," joked that he was still hearing about it from his new boss.

"He brings it up every 15 seconds," the 53-year-old said, turning to the cameras. "I should have never said that about him, so Mr President, if you're listening, I personally apologize for the 50th time for saying that."

Spicer had been a close ally of chief of staff Reince Priebus, and his departure will likely weaken both Priebus and the bridge between the White House and the Republican party establishment.

Scaramucci dismissed talk of a spat with Priebus, who White House sources said lobbied against his appointment.

"We are a little bit like brothers where we rough each other up once in a while, which is totally normal," he said.

Legal shake up

In an expansive interview with The New York Times earlier this week, Trump plunged his White House into fresh crisis when he appeared to take special counsel Robert Mueller to task.

Mueller is examining whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia's apparent efforts to help tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor.

With the investigation apparently extending to financial transactions, U.S. media reported that Trump allies were looking for ways to discredit Mueller's investigation.

Trump himself has suggested that Mueller -— a widely respected former FBI director —- may have a conflict of interest, and that examining his family finances would constitute a red line for him.

The White House has pointedly refused to rule out the possibility that Trump would fire Mueller -- an act that would prompt a political firestorm and perhaps a constitutional crisis.

"There is NO basis to question the integrity of Mueller or those serving with him in the special counsel's office," said former attorney general Eric Holder.

"Trump cannot define or constrain Mueller investigation. If he tries to do so this creates issues of constitutional and criminal dimension."

Trump has already fired his FBI director James Comey over the Russia investigation and lashed out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the probe.

The top Democrat on the Senate's intelligence committee, Mark Warner, warned that pardoning anybody who may have been involved in potential collusion "would be crossing a fundamental line.

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