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Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kellyanne Conway has never actually wanted the job of White House communications director, according to sources who've discussed it with her, but Axios has learned that she left many in the White House communications team this week with the impression that she'd be leading the team in some capacity.

Behind the scenes: Senior White House communications official Mercedes Schlapp convened an off-site team-building and planning retreat last week for the White House comms team. They held the session on Thursday at the General Services Administration building a couple blocks from the WH (the same building that once housed the transition).

About 40 people were in the room, and according to sources who were there:

  • Conway opened the session by addressing the group and giving what a source in the room described as a "pep talk".
  • She told the staff that the President had asked her to take a more active role in communications. She didn't directly address any of the communications director speculation but many in the room were left with the impression that she'd be taking a leadership role going forward.
  • She then asked the group for ideas to take to POTUS.

One suggestion that most in the room agreed with: that Trump should do more local and regional media, which increases his chances of getting more favorable coverage than he's getting in the national media.

  • But one person asked how to reconcile what the president wants to see versus what actually helps but that he might not notice.
  • Trump wants to see surrogates defending him on cable TV but the consensus within Trump's own communications team is that getting surrogates out in regional and local markets is a far more effective way of conveying POTUS' messages and accomplishments than appearing on cable TV.
  • Besides Conway's address to the group — in which the communications director role wasn't directly discussed — there was no other discussion during the session about who would replace Hope Hicks.

Other tidbits: The group, which has been beset by leaks and media reports of infighting, ran team-building exercises on large notepads. One of the questions posed to the group: If somebody was making a documentary about the White House communications team in five years, what would they say?

  • At one point in the session, Kirk Marshall, Joe Hagin's top deputy for Human Resources, asked the group to explain what they thought the difference was between comms and press.
  • Somebody asked a question about the standard of the Trump administration's communications work and Brad Rateike, director of cabinet communications, joked: "It's impossible to get fired around here."

Next steps: Kirk Marshall will lead one-on-one interviews with communications staff, soliciting suggestions on how to better improve the White House team and will encourage staff to offer a more candid perspective than they might have in a large group. They then plan to hold another planning retreat.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”

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