Trump finds it hard to recruit new staff for a shake-up

Mr Michael Dubke
Mr Michael Dubke PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

President's habit of undercutting staff, among other issues, drives candidates away

WASHINGTON • Back from overseas and confronting an unforgiving political environment, President Donald Trump appears increasingly isolated inside the White House, according to advisers, venting frustration over the performance of his staff and openly talking about shaking it up.

But as he considers casting off old aides, Mr Trump is finding it challenging to recruit new ones.

The disclosures from investigations stemming from Russian meddling in last year's election - coupled with the President's habit of undercutting his staff - have driven away candidates for West Wing jobs that normally would be among the most coveted in United States politics, according to people involved in the search.

By the time the first change in what may be a broader shake-up was announced on Tuesday, the White House was left without a replacement.

Mr Michael Dubke, the White House communications director, said he would step down, but four possible successors contacted by the White House declined to be considered, according to an associate of Mr Trump, who like others asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

At the same time, talks with two former advisers, Mr Corey Lewandowski and Mr David Bossie, about joining the White House staff grew more complicated. Mr Bossie, a former deputy campaign manager, signalled that he does not plan to join the staff, citing family concerns, one person close to the discussions said on Tuesday.

It was not clear what that might mean for Mr Lewandowski, who was the campaign manager until he was fired last summer but who has remained close to Mr Trump.

Mr Michael Dubke, the White House communications director, said he would step down, but four possible successors contacted by the White House declined to be considered, according to an associate of Mr Trump, who like others asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

Amid this fluid situation, Mr Trump faces several consequential decisions this week. He interviewed two more candidates on Tuesday to replace Mr James Comey, whom he fired as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director in May.

The latest candidates were Mr John Pistole, a former deputy FBI director who was administrator of the Transportation Security Administration under President Barack Obama, and Mr Christopher Wray, who was assistant attorney-general overseeing the criminal division under President George W. Bush.

Whether Mr Trump will actually reorganise his White House team remains uncertain. He has often talked about expelling people from his orbit, only to decide not to, as he did with Mr Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist, a few weeks ago.

Seemingly reinvigorated, Mr Bannon is now among those leading the effort to convince the President that he needs to overhaul his operation to focus more intensely on the nationalist policy goals that animated his candidacy.

Mr Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, on Tuesday held his first White House briefing since the President returned from a nine-day international trip amid talk that Mr Spicer's own role may change.

But Mr Spicer denied that the President was dissatisfied with his staff. "I think he's very pleased with the work of his staff," the press secretary said.

Mr Trump has been more open in discussing the possible departure of Mr Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff.

The President has joked repeatedly with Mr Priebus, whose mother is of Greek descent, that he would send him to Athens as ambassador to Greece. Speculation grew last week when a list of ambassadors was compiled at Mr Priebus' request and the Athens position was left blank, officials said.

Even if he ousted Mr Priebus, who has told friends that his goal was to remain in his job for at least a year, finding a replacement might be no easier than it has been for other positions.

Mr Trump has asked associates about Mr Gary Cohn, his national economics adviser, and Mr David Urban, who on Tuesday refused to comment on CNN, where he is a paid analyst.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Trump finds it hard to recruit new staff for a shake-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe