TrumpWatch, Day 190: Trump Dumps Chief of Staff Priebus

Reince Priebus leaves Air Force One after his dismissal as White House Chief of Staff, July 28, 2017 (Doug Mills)

Trump tightens circle further, following healthcare failure and amid Trump-Russia investigation, with Chief of Staff’s removal

Developments on Day 190 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcast: Trump Dives Into the Bunker With Priebus’s Dismissal

Trump Quickly Dismisses Priebus After Scaramucci’s Entry

Further cutting links with the base of the Republican Party, Donald Trump dismisses Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, as he surrounds himself with family, business associates, and generals.

Priebus’s removal came a week after the appointment of Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, a New York networker and hedge fund manager whose priority was the destruction of the Chief of Staff. In a foul-mouthed interview on Wednesday, Scaramucci denounced the Chief of Staff — who blocked Scaramucci’s appointment to the Administration in January — as a “paranoid schizophrenic” leaking information to the press.

Trump announced Priebus’s departure in a series of tweets on Friday, only minutes after the Chief of Staff, who had accompanied the Presidential entourage to an appearance on Long Island, left Air Force One. He was replaced by General John Kelly, who had been head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump said, “I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!”

However, even this consolation was shrouded by a dispute over the circumstance of the Chief of Staff’s demise. Priebus’s circle told journalists that a resignation letter had been privately submitted on Thursday, but White House aides close to the President denied this and said the Chief of Staff was fired.

Priebus reportedly told colleagues on Friday morning that he thought he would have a week before the announcement to make a graceful exit, only to be overtaken by Trump’s Twitter declaration, followed by the President’s brief statement to reporters.

A “Trump administration official” implicitly supported Priebus’s version, saying that staff thought that Kelly’s appointment was not going to be announced until next week.

The official added, “The President has tried multiple times to get the secretary to take this position, for the past couple of months.” He said that “given how close things were to going off the rails, we really needed the general in this job”.

As some officials said Trump had blamed Priebus for the demise of the GOP healthcare bill, killed off early Friday in a Senate vote, others considered whether the purge could spread. One White House official said Trump has considered pushing out chief strategist Steve Bannon, Several conservative supporters of Bannon — including Representative Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus chairman — told Trump on Friday that he would risk losing base supporters if Bannon was removed.

Mr. Bannon also helped bring Mr. Kelly into the administration during the transition, and was among those who supported his move to chief of staff, an official familiar with his position said.

So far Priebus, who was head of the Republican National Committee before joining the Trump campaign and then Administration, has been conciliatory. He later told CNN:

The President has a right to change directions. The President has a right to hit a reset button. I think it’s a good time to hit the reset button.

I’m always going to be a Trump fan. I’m on Team Trump, and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.

However, observers noted that Priebus has the option of changing his line, since he has not signed a non-disclosure agreement about his time in the Administration.

With the Chief of Staff’s departure, Vice President Mike Pence is one of the few remaining civilian pragmatists in the Adminsitration. Previously a Senator from Indiana, Pence may be vital in retaining links with Republican legislators.

In a sign of conservative anxiety over the President, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has posted a scathing critique: “This shuffling of the staff furniture won’t matter unless Mr. Trump accepts that the White House problem isn’t Mr. Priebus. It’s him.”

The board criticized Trump’s propensity for a “chaotic mess” in his organizations, observing that running casinos — at which Trump declared bankruptcy — is not the same as running a Government.

The editorial concluded, “The reason Mr. Priebus wasn’t as effective as he could have been is because Mr. Trump wouldn’t listen to him and wouldn’t let him establish a normal decision-making process.”

The editors said Trump might listen more to Kelly as a military commander: “He’d better, because on present course his Presidency is careening toward a historic reputation where names like Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon reside.”

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


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