FEATURED:

Comms director resigns amid shakeup rumors

Comms director resigns amid shakeup rumors
© Getty Images

The White House announced Tuesday that communications director Mike Dubke has resigned, news that comes amid swirling rumors of a major staff overhaul in the West Wing.

Dubke had only been on the job for three months before tendering his resignation on May 18. President Trump accepted Dubke’s offer to remain in his post to help manage communications during Trump’s overseas trip, and Trump accepted.

Dubke’s last day has not yet been determined, and a successor has not been chosen.

His exit comes as the White House weighs broader staff changes to stanch the damage from deepening crises surrounding Trump associates’ alleged ties to Russia.

Fresh off a nine-day foreign trip, Trump is being forced to confront a special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into potential collusion between the president’s allies and the Russian government.

Trump has vented his frustration, both publicly and privately, about how his communications team has handled bombshell revelations surrounding the Russia controversy, including their response to his firing of FBI Director James Comey.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied Tuesday that Dubke’s exit signals a looming shakeup, insisting that the president is “very pleased” with his staff.

Spicer, whose own job has long been rumored to be in jeopardy, said the shakeup talk is the result of Trump being “frustrated” about the spread of “quote, unquote fake news.”

But Spicer suggested that other, smaller changes could be in the works, including more frequent press briefings from Cabinet secretaries and more public appearances from Trump.

“Ultimately, the best messenger is the president himself,” Spicer said.

Still, Dubke’s departure magnified the sense that Trump’s staff stands on shaky ground.

Dubke, a veteran Republican operative, was hired in February to help restructure a White House communications shop that struggled to deal with a number of controversies early in the administration.

While Dubke had never served as a communications aide for a lawmaker, some saw him as an uncontroversial pick who could work well with the outspoken president.

But Dubke entered the White House with few close connections to Trump or his senior staff, and his quick exit shows how difficult it’s been for outsiders to gain traction inside the West Wing.

Aside from Spicer, who lobbied for Dubke’s hiring, the communications director “never really had a senior patron or anyone who really cared about him on the staff. So he turned out to be the perfect person to take the fall for all of Trump’s miscommunications,” one source familiar with the West Wing machinations said.

Over time, Dubke felt like he wasn’t making progress with the president or his penchant for off-message tweets.

“I don’t know how you couldn’t be frustrated,” one GOP strategist close to the White House said.

At the same time, another Republican strategist close to the White House said Trump was annoyed at Dubke after the communications director told aides last month that “there is no Trump doctrine.”

Sources say Trump stewed over the remark, which was later reported by Politico. In the weeks that followed, Trump told friends and associates he didn’t feel like Dubke was doing a good job.

“He never really got over that,” the source close to the White House said. “He was frustrated at the situation. He was never mad at the communications team itself, but he knew he was being buried in negative press. He knew something needed to happen and he knew he had to do something about it.”

As a result, “Dubke became the fall guy,” the source said. “He never recovered.”

But the broad consensus in Washington is that Dubke had an impossible job.

“It was 100 percent his idea [to resign],” said another GOP strategist close to Dubke. “I would imagine anyone in the communications field would be frustrated working in this White House.”

Dubke, who began to tell people about his departure Monday, often felt like his work was “undercut” by a tweet or an interview. He grew frustrated by both Trump and the people in his immediate circle.

“The top didn’t always participate in the message strategy,” said the source. “He felt like, ‘Why should I continue to beat my head against a wall?’ ”

Dubke was also frustrated at the prospect of going through an arduous divestment process to work for a president who wasn’t following a plan. “He thought it would be easier than it wound up being,” one source said.

“It wasn’t so much that it was just one thing, or another thing, I think it was a combination,” the strategist said, adding that Dubke “reached a point where he felt like he needed to resign.”

Spicer filled the role of communications director before Dubke’s hiring, but the dual workload became too heavy for him.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Dubke “will assist with the transition” to a new communications director “and be a strong advocate for the president and the president’s policies moving forward.”

Dubke’s departure comes amid talk that Trump might bring back familiar faces from the 2016 campaign to keep the White House agenda on track in the face of the Russia probe.

The president has reportedly considered tapping combative former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie to help lead a so-called war room to handle the media response to the investigation.

A reporter spotted both men leaving the White House late Monday, but it’s not clear whether any official offers have been made.

Trump is also considering bringing in David Urban, a veteran GOP lobbyist and former Trump campaign adviser, sources said.

In his return to the White House briefing room Tuesday after a two-week absence, Spicer showed off his pugilistic side, taking aim at members of the press for their reporting on everything from the shakeup rumors to Trump’s foreign trip.

“The reason that the president is frustrated is because there’s a perpetuation of false narratives, use of unnamed sources over and over again about things that have happened that don’t ultimately happen, and that’s very troubling,” the spokesman said.

With that, Spicer abruptly ended the Q&A session, earning groans from some reporters as he left the room.