May 30, 2017

White House communications director resigns — more moves expected

Luca Bruno / AP

Mike Dubke, President Trump's communications director, is leaving the White House — the start of a wave of changes as the West Wing struggles to cope with burgeoning scandals and a stalled agenda.

  • Dubke served for just three months before tendering his resignation May 18. He offered to stay through the overseas trip, and Trump accepted. He has been trying to help restructure the press and communications operation, and is parting on good terms, a senior administration official said.
  • Insiders say Dubke came in with few patrons, and never gelled with the originals. His departure is a reminder of how hard it is for newcomers to thrive in Trumpland.
  • Dubke is still coming in to work, and his last day hasn't been set. His job is likely to remain open for a bit.

Bring in the killers ... Trump is considering much broader changes, including the possibility of bringing in David Urban, a prominent GOP lobbyist who was a senior adviser on the campaign, as chief of staff.

  • Friends say Urban, 53, who's credited with helping Trump win his crucial upset in Pennsylvania, brings seasoned political judgment and no personal agenda. He's a West Point graduate, has a master's in government administration from Penn, and a law degree from Temple. Urban was on Trump's plane and in his green rooms during frequent campaign stops in the Keystone State, and the two became cellphone buddies.
  • Trump met yesterday with two top officials from his campaign, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, about joining the crisis-communications war room he's setting up, perhaps as part of an outside-inside duet.

Jonathan Swan points out that all these moves are part of a hardening or toughening of the operation:

  • "These are not polished characters being brought in (though Urban at least has Hill connections.) They are killers. And Lewandowski in particular makes conventional folks in the White House very very nervous. ... Experience suggests he will not only indulge Trump's most combative instincts, but goad them."
  • "Trump loves the word 'killers.' ... From early childhood, [Harry Hurt III wrote in his Trump biography, 'Lost Tycoon'], Fred used to tell his boys 'you are a killer … you are a king … you are a killer … you are a king.'"

Immediate changes are planned for White House messaging, including:

  • Sean Spicer will stay as press secretary, but will do fewer on-camera briefings (although he's on-camera today at 2 p.m.)
  • More briefings will be on-record but off-camera.
  • Trump is likely to travel more — at least once a week, some top officials hope.
  • Trump may take a few questions from the press when he's on the road, and will take more questions when he's appearing at photo ops with foreign leaders.
  • An official explained why Trump will do more of the talking for the White House: "He says things exactly the way he wants them to be said."
  • Translation: When he says it, he can't second-guess his staff.

This story first appeared in Axios AM, my morning newsletter. 1-click signup here. And coming today: Axios PM.

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