May 13, 2017

Trump Weighs Shake-Up of Press Team


WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is considering broad changes to his communications team and strategy, which he blames for failing to contain the controversy surrounding his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, according to multiple administration officials.

Among other moves, Mr. Trump is again weighing replacing Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who returned to the briefing-room lectern on Friday after two days away on Naval reserve duty. But the president is considering a larger organization of his team, a White House official said. Since Wednesday, a senior communications staffer has been reaching out to supportive cable TV surrogates to gauge their interest in joining the staff.

Additionally, in a taped interview set to air Saturday, Mr. Trump said he is considering abolishing the century-old practice of daily press briefings in favor of conducting his own briefing every two weeks, according to a preview released by Fox News. In that interview, the president called Mr. Spicer a “wonderful human being” but declined to answer a question about whether he would remain in his post.

 White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer could be replaced.

Mr. Spicer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Part of the challenge in any media strategy is managing the president’s own tweets and other communications. On Friday, Mr. Trump fired off a round of tweets that underscored the degree of difficulty.

One tweet addressed the criticism of his press office in the wake of Mr. Comey’s dismissal, defending conflicting explanations coming out of the White House and asserting that it is inevitable that some statements made during briefings won’t always be correct.

“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” he tweeted. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

In another tweet, Mr. Trump created a new problem for his press team. In an NBC interview on Thursday, the president said Mr. Comey told him that he wasn’t under investigation, an assertion that associates close to the former director denied.

On Friday, the president tweeted that the former director “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Mr. Comey couldn’t be reached for comment.

Democrats on Capitol Hill immediately demanded the White House turn over any recordings. At the White House briefing later in the day, Mr. Spicer said the message was “not a threat” and that he was unaware of any tapes of the conversations. He declined to say whether Mr. Trump recorded it.

A senior White House aide said the delayed response was part of a pattern from the communications team, which also was slow to organize a defense when the president’s first travel ban in January prompted protests across the country.

Botched communication has been a central issue in a rocky week for the Trump administration. The president’s announcement Tuesday that he was firing Mr. Comey, who was heading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, blindsided his press office and set off a scramble to defend the act.

Where are things going?