White House press secretary Sean Spicer has abruptly resigned, ending a rocky six-month tenure that made his news briefings must-see TV.
Following the shock announcement on Friday, he said President Donald Trump’s White House “could benefit from a clean slate”.
Spicer quit in protest over the hiring of a new White House communications director, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci, objecting to what Spicer considered his lack of qualifications and to the direction of the press operation, according to people familiar with the situation.
Spicer said during a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press that he felt it would be best for Scaramucci to be able to build his own operation “and chart a new way forward”.
He tweeted that it had been an “honour” and “privilege” to serve Mr Trump and he would remain in his post throughout August.
Spicer had long sought the strategic communications job for himself and had been managing that role along with his press secretary duties for nearly two months.
Spicer’s daily press briefings had become must-watch television until recent weeks when he took on a more behind-the-scenes role. Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has largely taken over the briefings, turning them into off-camera events.
Spicer spent several years leading communications at the Republican National Committee before helping Mr Trump’s campaign in the general election. He is close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair, and several of the lower-ranking aides in the White House communications shop.
Priebus told The Associated Press that he supports Scaramucci “100 per cent”, despite reportedly trying to prevent the financier from getting multiple administration positions.
Spicer also complimented Scaramucci, a New York financier and frequent defender of the president who was a staple at Trump Tower during Donald Trump’s transition, saying “It’ll be great, he’s a tough guy.”
Spicer and other press staffers had been feeling that they finally had the press shop operating effectively, aside from matters related to the Russia investigation, said one of the people familiar with the situation.
News of Spicer’s resignation set off a chaotic scene at the White House.
Inside the West Wing, a gaggle of reporters more than a dozen deep crowded around a doorway leading to the press offices seeking more information on Spicer’s departure and other potential staffing moves.
White House officials announced that Sanders would hold the daily briefing – the first on camera since June 29 – on Friday afternoon.
Spicer’s tenure got off to a rocky start. On Mr Trump’s first full day in office, he lambasted journalists over coverage of the crowd size at the inauguration and stormed out of the briefing room without answering questions.
Spicer, who often displayed a fiery demeanour in tense on-camera exchanges with reporters, became part of culture in the way few people in his job have, particularly through an indelible impersonation by Melissa McCarthy on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
– RAW, with Julia Pace