Incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not say on Thursday if the president still has confidence in his chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
“We all serve at the pleasure of the president, and if he gets to a place where that isn’t the case, he’ll let you know,” Sanders said when directly asked about the president's confidence at the White House news briefing on Thursday afternoon.
When pressed again, Sanders said that she had already answered the question, and she noted that this White House has “a lot of different perspectives because the president hires the very best people.”
“They’re not always going to agree. There are going to be a lot of different ideas,” Sanders said. “Unlike previous administrations, this isn’t groupthink. We all have a chance to come and voice those ideas, voice those perspectives and have a lot of healthy competition, and with that competition, you usually get the best results. The president likes that kind of competition and encourages it.”
Priebus, a former Republican Party chairman, is under attack as never before and has been publicly accused by the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, of leaking information to reporters. Priebus has already watched some of his closest allies in the West Wing resign, including former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh and press secretary Sean Spicer. A Republican who is in close contact with those at the White House rated Priebus’s job security in this way: “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 2.”
Scaramucci is a flashy New York financier who brags that he and Trump were “friends first.” He moved up his start date from Aug. 15 to Wednesday, which one White House official said was an effort to thwart any attempt by Priebus to derail the move, and he has been threatening to fire anyone who doesn’t fully support the president — along with launching a very public attack on Priebus that has unfolded on Twitter and cable news like scenes in a scripted reality television show.
Sanders said Thursday afternoon that she doesn't believe Scaramucci has taken an oath of office yet, and she would not comment on the status of his security clearance. When asked if Scaramucci is now formally a member of the White House staff, Sanders replied: “He’s working at the White House.”
Scaramucci and his allies are compiling a diagram of the news organizations that they suspect received leaked information from Priebus, and they plan to present it to the president on Friday, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secret plan of attack. On Wednesday night, Scaramucci had dinner at the White House with the president, first lady, Fox News’ Sean Hannity and former Fox News executive Bill Shine, who was a close ally of the late Fox News founder Roger Ailes. Over dinner, the group discussed the president’s political strategy and how best to overhaul the West Wing staff, according to a senior White House official.
Afterward, Scaramucci responded to a Politico report about the financial disclosure form he filed during his stint at the Export-Import Bank earlier this year, which showed that he stood to continue to receive profits from the hedge fund that he sold ahead of joining the administration. Even though Politico reviewed this document by simply requesting it through the proper channels, Scaramucci fired off a tweet labeling its release a “leak” and “a felony” and adding Priebus’s Twitter handle to the end of the message — which many interpreted as Scaramucci publicly blaming his archrival.
In an interview with CNN early Thursday morning, Scaramucci claimed that he tagged Priebus in the late-night tweet because as “chief of staff, he’s responsible for understanding and uncovering” leakers in the White House. He said that some journalists assumed that because he tagged Priebus in his tweet he was publicly accusing the chief of staff of leaking the information — an assumption that they made, he said, because they “actually know who the leakers are.”
“So if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that,” Scaramucci said.
When asked about this comment, Sanders said with a smile: “I’m not going to comment on Anthony’s suggestion, I’m going to let him answer for himself. I think I made pretty clear where the president is, and I don’t have anything to add beyond that.”
Sanders alluded to the drama playing about in the White House this week as she opened the briefing with a deadpan joke.
“I hate to start the Q-and-A off on a low note,” she said, “but I want to maybe get ahead of some of the personnel-related questions and just to let you guys know ahead of time that no, I cannot confirm whether or not Sean Spicer will be on 'Dancing With the Stars' upon leaving the White House.”
Abby Phillip and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.