Trump hits reset button on messaging

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE hit the reset button on his beleaguered press team on Friday, hiring Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as his new communications director.

The decision led to the abrupt resignation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a well-known face who has been seen less and less on the briefing room podium in recent weeks. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, formerly Spicer’s deputy, was chosen to replace him as press secretary. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The news about Spicer immediately raised questions about whether it was the beginning of a larger shakeup, but that did not materialize on Friday.

Scaramucci, for his part, sought to downplay the notion of a White House wracked by turmoil and heading off course as he made his briefing room debut hours after the news broke of Spicer’s resignation.

“The ship is going in the right direction,” he said. “I think we've got to just radio signal the direction very, very clearly. I like the team — let me rephrase that — I love the team.”

Scaramucci previously had a strained relationship with Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who objected to his hiring. Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon is also said to have vehemently opposed bringing the financier onto the White House staff.

But Scaramucci insisted he has “no friction” with Priebus, calling him a “dear friend” whom he once offered a job at his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital.

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

Seeking to project a united front, Priebus told The Associated Press that he backs Scaramucci “100 percent,” even though he reportedly attempted to block him from other administration posts. 

“We go back a long, long way and are very good friends,” Priebus said. “All good here.”

The reshuffling comes at a time when Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with his White House’s agenda and message being overshadowed by the widening probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. 

Trump has also grumbled about what he sees as his aides’ inability to parry against the allegations that his associates colluded with the effort. 

The moves at the White House coincided with a shakeup of the president’s legal team handling the Russia investigation. 

Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, is stepping back from his role, leaving attorneys John Dowd and Jay Sekulow on the outside team and Ty Cobb inside the White House as the legal point man on Russia. Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the outside legal team, resigned.

The probe has expanded to include Donald Trump Jr., who is expected to testify before Congress next week about his election-year meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton responds to Trump tweets telling Dem lawmakers to 'go back' to their countries The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur: Here's how to choose a president MORE

Investigators have reportedly ramped up scrutiny of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who faces questions about his meetings with Russians and whether the campaign's digital operation that he led was involved with the election-meddling effort. 

To help turn the tide, Trump is turning to a figure from his natural habitat — the New York business world — rather than traditional Republican political circles. 

Scaramucci has reportedly developed a close bond with Trump and his hire was supported by members of the Trump family, including daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump. She participated in a Thursday night meeting with her father, Vice President Pence and Scaramucci to discuss his new role, according to The Washington Post. 

Two other communications aides who are close to the Trump family — Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino — will remain in their posts, Scaramucci said.

In a statement read by Sanders in front of cameras in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, Trump called Scaramucci “a person I have great respect for” and said he “will now help implement key aspects of our agenda.”

“We have accomplished so much, and we are being given credit for so little,” Trump said in the statement. “The good news is the people get it, even if the media doesn't.”

Scaramucci on Friday showed off the slick, smooth-talking style that Trump is said to value in his television appearances. He heaped praise on Trump, saying he loved the president, and that he was “very loyal” to him.

The former hedge fund manager also lauded his competitive nature and athletic prowess, saying that he has seen him “throw a dead spiral through a tire" and witnessed him “at Madison Square Garden with a top coat on, he's standing in the key and he's hitting foul shots and swishing them. He sinks 3-foot putts.”

But as a political novice, Scaramucci could face a steep learning curve in his new role. The White House communications director typically is charged with playing a behind-the-scenes role in plotting strategy — not in front of the camera.

Scaramucci said he would leave briefing duties to Sanders, but his turn behind the lectern stirred speculation he could make some return appearances. 

He played up his relationship with the president, saying he has Oval Office privileges and that “the president said I report to him directly,” comments that may have stung for a press operation that has at times struggled to speak for Trump. 

While Spicer’s resignation shocked staff in the West Wing, a shakeup of the press team seemed to be months in the making. 

The president this spring threatened to cancel the daily press briefings and complained that his communications staff had trouble keeping up with “a very active president with lots of things happening.”

His original communications director Michael Dubke resigned in May, shortly after those comments. 

The job has been made even more difficult by Trump's tendency to say or tweet things that undercut his White House staff. For example, his admission that he fired James Comey as FBI director for his handling of the Russia probe was at odds with his spokespeople's claim he was axed over the Clinton email probe.

Trump was once enamored with the high ratings Spicer’s daily press briefings received. But he eventually soured on his combative exchanges with reporters and his frequent gaffes. 

The president offered kind words for Spicer, who is expected to stay on board through August to assist with the transition to Scaramucci. 

“I am grateful for Sean's work on behalf of my administration and the American people,” Trump said in a statement. “I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities. Just look at his great television ratings.”