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Trump demands housecleaning on White House communications team

President Donald Trump has demanded changes to his communications team — long seen as one of the most internally divided offices in his White House — in an effort to crack down on the leaks that have plagued his presidency since Day One.

White House chief of staff John Kelly signed off on a plan that would flush out some of the department’s midlevel and junior aides, according to three people familiar with the situation. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other key senior officials are expected to remain, these people said.

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Though changes to the structure of the White House communications office had been under consideration for months, sparked by concerns about a lack of organization in the office, the recent leak of a junior staffer’s callous remarks about Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s health served as a breaking point that moved the president to action.

Trump spoke to the staffer, communications aide Kelly Sadler, during a meeting earlier this month in which he asked Sadler and others present to identify leakers in the communications shop, according to two of the people familiar with the internal discussions. He also expressed deep frustration with the leaks coming out of the White House, telling aides he believes many of the stories that cite leaked information are inaccurate and damage his presidency.

At a separate meeting of White House communications aides in mid-May, Sadler said that McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel’s nomination to be CIA director didn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway.” The remark, which was first reported by The Hill newspaper, fueled days of negative coverage after the White House refused to apologize.

Kelly, whose relationship with Trump has been distant over the past few months, is a close ally of the president in the matter. In an orientation session for some of the administration’s recent hires on Tuesday morning, he sought to explain Sadler’s remark, telling the group that it was merely a factual statement — not a morbid joke.

He went on to criticize the news media, according to an administration official briefed on his comments, complaining that its coverage of Trump is too often based on anonymous sourcing, unfair to the president and completely inaccurate. At the same time, Kelly, a retired Marine general, made clear he has the utmost respect for McCain and considers him an American hero, the administration official said.

It remains unclear when the shakeup will take place, and plans remain fluid, though some expect it in the coming weeks.

The White House declined to comment for this story.

While some communications staffers could be fired, others are expected to be reassigned to other departments. In addition to getting rid of leakers, the goal of the shakeup is to create a leaner operation with clearer lines of command, according to the people familiar with the plans.

President Donald Trump talks on the phone aboard Air Force One.

The White House communications team currently has about two dozen staffers, with the press shop consisting of another dozen people.

The White House last week took a first step toward limiting leaks, reducing the size of daily communications meetings to a core group of presidential advisers, a change first reported by The New York Times.

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