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Hope Hicks to leave White House

Hope Hicks was one of the first people to join Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, and she was nearly always at his side on the campaign trail and in the White House. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

White House communications director Hope Hicks said Wednesday she planned to resign, leaving President Donald Trump without one of his longest-serving aides and strongest defenders — and resulting in yet another high-profile vacancy in the West Wing.

“There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump,” Hicks said in a statement provided by the White House, in which she did not say what she planned to do next. “I wish the president and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country.”

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Hicks was one of the first people to join Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, and she was nearly always at his side on the campaign trail and in the White House. But her decision to exit came after she drew scrutiny amid several minefields facing the administration.

On Tuesday, she declined to answer many questions during an appearance before House investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In early February, she was drawn into the controversy surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter, whom she had been dating and who resigned amid claims of physical and verbal abuse from two ex-wives.

Her date of departure was not immediately clear, but the White House said she would leave “in the next few weeks.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly is said to be eyeing the White House director of strategic communications, Mercedes Schlapp, as Hicks’ replacement, but he was also considering external candidates as recently as last week, according to an administration official and another source close to the White House.

“Hope is still here,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email. “Nothing to announce at this time.”

White House aides stressed that they were far from making a decision about Hicks’ replacement, and one official said Trump himself was likely going to play a central role in the search for candidates.

Kelly’s relationship with Hicks has sometimes been strained, according to an administration official, who said it reached a low during the firestorm over Porter. But the official said their relationship recovered and has largely been positive.

The White House released a statement from Kelly praising Hicks. “She has served her country with great distinction,” Kelly said in the statement. “To say that she will be missed is an understatement.”

Hicks gathered with staffers on Wednesday evening in Sanders’ office to announce her plans to depart. A White House official said that it was an “emotional” moment, and that Hicks told her colleagues that her decision was a lon -time coming and had nothing to do with recent news stories.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, speaks his campaign communications manager Hope Hicks, right, as he arrives for service at First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. Trump will be holding a rally at Muscatine High School in the afternoon. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump has cycled through five communications directors since December 2016. His first pick for the job, campaign aide Jason Miller, withdrew before Trump was sworn in amid allegations that he’d had an affair. Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke and Anthony Scaramucci all later served in the position.

“Hope was a trusted adviser to the president,” Spicer said. “It’ll obviously have a big impact.”

Trump’s White House has faced an unusually high level of turnover in the last 13 months, from the departures of former chief of staff Reince Priebus to chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The departures have left several gaping holes in the White House organizational chart. Trump has not yet found a permanent replacement for Porter. And when deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn departs at the end of this month, the president will have only one deputy chief of staff — down from three earlier in the administration.

The White House has struggled to recruit top-level talent, according to multiple people close to the administration, with some qualified candidates expressing reluctance to join the West Wing while special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation hogs the headlines.

Even without the recruiting problems, Trump is unlikely to find a communications director whom he trusts as much as Hicks.

“She’ll be incredibly difficult to replace,” White House attorney Ty Cobb, who has been serving as the official point person for the president’s response to the Russia investigation, told POLITICO. “She couldn’t have been a more supportive or talented ally to me.”

A Hicks friend said the cumulative effect of her time working for Trump — the high-profile nature of a job with a free-wheeling boss who is his own communications director, coupled with the stresses of the Russia investigation and most recently with her relationship to Porter — all combined to send her for the exits.

Hicks walks to her seat before the start of the daily press briefing on Feb. 14, 2017.

“This was a case of, ‘I’m done. Physically. Emotionally. Just drained,’” the friend said. “Three years in that kind of environment is a lifetime.”

The friend said Hicks had been talking to close confidants for months “about what does the other end of this look like.”

Hicks’ title, the friend said, didn’t really reflect what she did for the president. “She was not just a staffer for him,” the friend said. “You can find another communications director. I think for Trump this is closer to losing a limb.”

The Trump White House, even if it is denying that Hicks’s departure had anything to do with her Russia testimony, nonetheless opened itself up to criticism and questions based on the decision to announce it Wednesday, said a Republican operative close to the Trump White House.

“Being a practitioner of PR would suggest if it didn’t have to do with yesterday, you’d have waited a few days,” the operative said. “This is what you do for a living. You know how the press is going to interpret it. I’d have waited a week.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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