Trump’s shrinking West Wing – Politico

 In U.S.

When President Donald Trump asked Hope Hicks to step into the role of communications director, his longtime aide hesitated before taking on a management position overseeing more than 40 staffers who work in White House media relations.

It was Hicks who insisted on “interim” being part of her new job title before accepting the post, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. But since her appointment on Aug. 16 – when Ivanka Trump went on Twitter to congratulate her “talented friend & colleague Hope Hicks on being named WH Communications Director,” leaving out any mention of the “interim” part – no active search has been launched to find a more permanent successor to the short-lived Anthony Scaramucci era.

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After a summer of distracting staff churn, the communications director job is just one of a number of top-level West Wing positions that has ultimately been filled by an existing staffer – or not filled at all – after an official has quit or been let go.

Interviews with six White House staffers and people close to the president attribute Trump’s shrinking West Wing to three factors: chief of staff John Kelly’s careful review process, which has led to the paring down of an organization that many inside have complained was top-heavy; the chilling factor of five open-ended Russia investigations hanging over the White House, making it hard to attract new talent; and the president’s own dark mood this summer, which has left him increasingly isolated and in the mood to hunker down, not hire up.

There are no plans to fill the role of chief strategist left vacant by Steve Bannon’s exit from the West Wing earlier this month, according to one White House official. The removal last week of Sebastian Gorka, a Bannon ally who served as a deputy assistant to the president, leaves another position empty.

Kelly, multiple administration officials said, has no plans to find a replacement for Gorka, whose national-security-related position – which seemed mainly to involve doing television appearances the president loved – always existed outside of a typical White House organizational chart.

“General Kelly has come in and done a look-see on what everyone’s been working on for the first six or seven months here,” said one White House aide, explaining that positions like the one held by Gorka would be pared down going forward. In one-on-one interviews with all West Wing staffers, the aide said, Kelly asked aides to bring him up to speed on their work, and upcoming deadlines. “Some people were ready,” the aide said, “and some people were not.”

As for Bannon, people close to the president argue that because Trump serves as his own chief strategist, his position was ultimately redundant.

Kelly is now mulling a system in which the chief of staff, the staff secretary and the White House counsel would serve as the only direct reports to the president, cutting out any space for a chief strategist to directly influence the president’s thinking.

Trump’s top-heavy West Wing has also been shedding staffers without replacing them from the beginning. When former chief of staff Reince Priebus’ deputy Katie Walsh left the administration in March, the first high-profile staffer to depart, most of her portfolio went to another White House deputy chief of staff, Rick Dearborn – and she was never replaced.

And Dearborn, along with counselor Kellyanne Conway, has overseen the surrogate operation since Boris
Epshteyn was fired in March — though with the help of one newcomer, a lower-level press aide, Kelly Sadler, who was hired by former communications director Mike Dubke.

At lower levels, staffers who have been let go – like communications aides Michael Short and Andrew Hemming – are also not being immediately replaced.

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