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Trump Spokeswoman Won’t Declare President’s Confidence in Priebus

President wants ‘healthy competition’ between sudden West Wing rivals

The White House press secretary on Thursday would not confirm if the president still had confidence in Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The White House press secretary on Thursday would not confirm if the president still had confidence in Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The White House’s top spokeswoman would not say Thursday whether President Donald Trump still has confidence in White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who has seemingly also come under criticism from an incoming senior aide.

What’s more, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Trump welcomes a “healthy competition” between Priebus and incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci, as well as other aides. She did not, however, define what that means.

Asked plainly if the president has confidence in Priebus, Sanders replied: “If the president doesn’t, then he’ll make that decision. We all serve at pleasure of the president. And if he gets to the place that isn’t the case, he’ll let you know.”

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She described the Trump West Wing as a place “that has a lot of different perspectives because the president hires the very best people” who are “not always going to agree — there are going to be a lot of different ideas.”

Sanders took a shot at past administrations, saying Trump does not make decisions or policies via “groupthink,” but rather by giving his top aides a chance to “come and have a chance to voice those ideas, voice those perspectives.”

Trump wants his top lieutenants to “have a lot of healthy competition,” his spokeswoman said.

“And with that competition, you usually get the best results,” she said. “The president likes that kind of competition and encourages it.”

Priebus, a former Republican National Committee chairman, finds himself in a similar position as Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In recent days, Trump himself has publicly criticized his hand-picked attorney general, raising questions on whether he will soon fire Sessions or demand his resignation.

Sanders’ remarks came a few hours after Scaramucci criticized Priebus on Thursday during an impromptu phone call to CNN’s “New Day” morning show after speaking directly to Trump. The previous evening, the longtime Wall Street financier posted a since-deleted tweet, which appeared to imply Priebus leaked Scaramucci’s financial disclosure form to Politico.

“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept,” Scaramucci wrote. He then added the hashtag “#swamp,” echoing Trump’s disparaging moniker for Washington, D.C., and “@Reince45,” the chief of staff’s official Twitter handle.

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Late Wednesday night, the man known to Trump as “The Mooch” fired off another tweet walking back the first one after reaction accusing him of blaming Priebus. But by Thursday morning, Scaramucci was back to implying the chief of staff is one of the West Wing leakers Trump has directed his friend and incoming communications chief to sniff out.

“When I put out a tweet and I put Reince’s name in a tweet, they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are,” the flamboyant New Yorker told CNN. “So if Reince wants to explain he’s not a leaker, let him do that. But let me tell you about myself. … I’m a straight-shooter and I’ll go right to the heart of the matter.”

That was a much different tone from last Friday, when Scaramucci stood at the White House briefing room podium and called Priebus a “personal” friend of six years, adding that the two are “a little bit like brothers where we rough each other up once in a while — but he’s a dear friend.”