Sean Spicer resigns as White House press secretary

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned on Friday amid changes to President Trump’s communications shop.

The news of Spicer’s resignation was first reported by the New York Times. A White House staffer subsequently confirmed it to Yahoo News.

According to the Times, Spicer departed because ”he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.” Multiple sources familiar with the situation confirmed to Yahoo News that Scaramucci was given that position on Friday morning.

Scaramucci appeared with White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a briefing on Friday where he officially announced his appointment. He also said Sanders would be replacing Spicer as press secretary.

Trump’s communications team has been a center of turmoil and tension in the White House. Multiple White House sources and Trump allies have expressed frustration with its performance as the administration has been battered by negative stories about the president’s relationship with Russia, potential conflicts of interest and mismanagement.

At the briefing where she and Scaramucci discussed Spicer’s resignation, Sanders read a statement from Trump in which he described Scaramucci as “a person I have great respect for” and who “will be an important addition to the administration.” The statement also included a comment indicating that Trump has been frustrated with the public perception of his administration.

“We have accomplished so much and we are being given credit for so little,” Trump said.

Sean Spicer in a White House briefing. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In addition to his role as press secretary, Spicer had been filling in for Mike Dubke, who resigned as communications director in May. In a tweet posted shortly after the news of his resignation broke, Spicer said it was an “honor and a privilege” to be part of the administration and indicated he plans to stay on for the short term.

“I will continue my service through August,” Spicer wrote.

Spicer came to the White House from the Republican National Committee where he was communications director. He is a longtime deputy and close ally of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who was RNC chairman before Trump took office.

Trump’s White House is notoriously factional, with distinct groups frequently butting heads. The president’s children, including his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are both top advisers in the West Wing and a major sphere of influence. Another key bloc includes White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and adviser Stephen Miller, both  strong advocates for the nationalist and populist agenda that was a key part of Trump’s campaign platform. Trump also regularly consults with veterans of his presidential campaign and his longtime associates in New York, many of whom do not work in the White House but have become de facto advisers. And then Priebus and Spicer head up a contingent of RNC veterans who make up a large portion of West Wing staff.

The RNC presence in the White House has been viewed skeptically by many of Trump’s loyalists. Trump ran as a political outsider and many of his longtime allies see Priebus and his allies as part of a Washington Republican establishment that doesn’t understand Trump’s vision.

Scaramucci, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News, was a campaign fundraiser for Trump and served as a member of the executive committee of Donald Trump’s transition team. He previously served as a co-managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, a hedge fund he founded. Scaramucci began his Wall Street career with Goldman Sachs, a company that employed several key figures in Trump’s administration.

One Trump campaign veteran and Scaramucci ally told Yahoo News that the White House’s messaging would improve under Scaramucci.

“The White House will finally have a professional that understands the president’s mandate. This hire will attract the best communications people to the White House,” the source said.

New White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci addresses the daily briefing at the White House in Washington. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Shortly before Trump took office in January, Scaramucci sold his hedge fund business to RON Transatlantic EG and a Chinese company, HNA Capital. Scaramucci had put the company up for sale as he was eyeing a position in the Trump White House. Scaramucci is a visible figure on Wall Street through his firm’s annual Las Vegas event, the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, or SALT. In the finance world, he is often called by the nickname “Mooch.”

Despite being floated for multiple positions in the West Wing in the past six months, Scaramucci remained outside the White House. A longtime Trump loyalist attributed that, in part, to Priebus, whom they described as “Anthony’s No. 1 enemy.” The loyalist said Priebus raised concerns about Scaramucci’s business interests to Trump and was a major factor in blocking him from the West Wing.

“Anthony wanted to work in the West Wing. He deserved it. He raised a lot of money during the campaign,” the person said.

With Scaramucci officially entering the West Wing, the longtime Trump loyalist said his appointment is a strong sign Priebus and his RNC veterans are losing influence. They expressed hope the shakeup would lead to a comeback for a New York faction comprised of campaign allies and other longtime Trump associates.

“The RNC apparatchiks are on a death watch,” the loyalist said.

But on Twitter, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote that a “person close to Priebus” said he is “100 percent supportive of Scaramucci and they have a great relationship.” Haberman further said the source claimed that Priebus wasn’t trying to block Scaramucci from the White House, but was merely trying to “slow down the process” for unspecified reasons.

Scaramucci also denied reports of tensions with Priebus when he appeared with Sanders at the briefing on Friday.

“Reince and I have been personal friends for six years,” Scaramucci said. “We are a little bit like brothers where we rough each other up once in a while, … but we are dear friends.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, with new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, holds a daily briefing at the White House. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Scaramucci has been active in Republican politics for years. He previously served as national finance co-chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. Scaramucci didn’t initially back Trump in last year’s election. He raised funds for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush after Walker’s early exit.

Though Scaramucci wasn’t part of the White House during Trump’s first six months, he regularly appeared on cable news where he was a staunch defender of the president. Scaramucci has no prior public relations or political communications experience, but multiple sources close to Trump said the president and his family were strongly impressed by Scaramucci’s performances on television. And while Ivanka and Kushner backed Scaramucci coming into the White House, the longtime loyalist stressed that it was ultimately Trump’s decision. The person said Trump was particularly happy with an instance in which Scaramucci got CNN to retract a story linking Scaramucci to Russia-related investigations. In his ongoing feud with the media and what Trump has dubbed “fake news,” CNN has been one of the media outlets that has particularly drawn Trump’s ire.

“The White House was greatly impressed that Anthony fought back against CNN of all networks,” the longtime loyalist said.

Scaramucci’s appointment came after a chaotic evening for the White House. Axios first reported that Scaramucci would get the job late Thursday night and that it “came as a surprise” to Priebus. At the briefing where he discussed his new position on Friday, Scaramucci disputed the reports Priebus wasn’t aware of his appointment. However, in the wake of the initial report, another White House official also appeared caught off-guard by the news and told Yahoo News that Scaramucci had not “even interviewed” for the job. And in the hours after the initial Axios story there were multiple reports that Scaramucci’s position and title were not finalized.

Spicer’s departure is certainly a blow to Priebus, as he was the chief of staff’s most visible and highest ranking ally. As press secretary, Spicer became, for better or worse, the public face of the administration. One day after the inauguration, Spicer infamously came out and made a clearly false statement that Trump’s swearing in had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period.” Spicer initially said photographs of the event were “intentionally framed” to minimize the crowd, but after a backlash, he suggested that he meant the true size of the audience should include television and online viewers.

Sean Spicer holds a press briefing in May. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

During Spicer’s tenure as press secretary, his daily briefings with reporters were widely watched on television. Spicer developed a reputation for combativeness with reporters. He also made a series of memorable comments, including claiming that a “small group of people” understood the secret meaning behind Trump’s infamous “covfefe” tweet, and defending Trump’s claim that the late 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was being increasingly “recognized” by arguing that, through the White House’s Black History Month celebrations, the “contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.” His reputation for aggressively backing Trump on matters great and small, with or without supporting facts, was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” by actress Melissa McCarthy in a series of sketches. In Trump’s statement on Spicer’s departure, the president referenced his run behind the briefing room podium.

“I am grateful for Sean’s work,” Trump said, adding, “Just look at his great television ratings.”

Spicer had been seen less and less at briefings with reporters in recent weeks, often ceding the role to Sanders. Multiple White House sources have said Sanders had her eye on the press secretary job prior to being tapped as Spicer’s replacement. She did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.

As Spicer has receded into the background in recent months, the briefings have become less frequent. The White House has also increasingly barred cameras from briefings. The briefing with Sanders and Scaramucci in the wake of Spicer’s departure was the first one to be held on camera since the end of June. As he began his remarks, Scaramucci wished Spicer success in the private sector.

“I wish him well and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money,” Scaramucci said of Spicer.

Last updated 3 p.m. ET.
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