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White House Communications Director Resigns Amid Rumors Of Staff Changes


There's been a lot of speculation that President Trump would shake up his staff amid weeks of negative headlines about the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the ongoing Russia investigations. Well, today word came that a senior White House official has resigned. Communications Director Mike Dubke - not a household name but possibly the first of a number of changes to come.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House. And Mara, what exactly is Mike Dubke responsible for at the White House, and why is he leaving?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: As the White House communications director, Mike Dubke was responsible for planning a communications strategy and then trying to get everyone in the White House to execute it, which is easier said than done with a president who likes to develop and tweet his own message all the time.

Dubke actually handed in his resignation on May 18. And it never leaked until today. So that's really a record in this leaky White House. He was not a member of the Trump inner circle. He hadn't worked on the campaign. We know that Trump has been unhappy with his communications staff. That's a common reaction for presidents who see their approval ratings drop.

But we also know that Dubke was an advocate of compartmentalizing the Trump controversy, letting a specific person or persons deal with those so that the president could focus only on his priorities like jobs and trade and tax cuts. But that clearly isn't something that Trump himself embraced. The question now is whether Dubke's departure is part of a bigger staff shakeup to come.

SIEGEL: Well, what might that larger staff shakeup be like?

LIASSON: We don't know yet, but there's been speculation that former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie would play some kind of a role. These are the tough, loyal, real street fighters from the Trump campaign. It's unclear if that role would be inside or outside of the White House.

The idea is to do something like other White Houses who've been under investigations have done, which is set up a war room or some special operation to handle responses to questions about the Russia investigation and then wall it off from the rest of the White House.

We don't know what kind of structure Trump wants. We know he is clearly entertaining the idea of getting reinforcements, and we know that the White House has been talking to an outside lawyer, Marc Kasowitz. He's a top corporate litigator, and he is Trump's business lawyer from New York.

SIEGEL: Sounds like you've described the no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy scenario for...

LIASSON: Yes, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

SIEGEL: ...The White House. Let's turn now to reports that back in December before Donald Trump became president, his son-in-law Jared Kushner explored setting up a back channel to communicate with Russia. What did Sean Spicer, the press secretary, say about that today?

LIASSON: Well, he pushed back against those reports. He cited their use of anonymous sources, and he pointed to the fact that the Department of Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, have both said that there's nothing wrong in general with back channels. But Spicer is not confirming or denying those stories that Jared Kushner was somehow involved in discussions about setting up a back channel, possibly using Russia's secure communications facilities for this. There is a lot we just simply do not know about this story. What was the alleged back channel for?

What we do know is that now Jared Kushner, top adviser and son-in-law to the president, is part of the Russia investigation. Kushner does have a lawyer, Jamie Gorelick. And she has said he is willing to talk to Congress, to the committees investigating this and to any other inquiry. Presumably that means Bob Mueller, the special counsel.

SIEGEL: Mara, one question about Trump's policy agenda - he's tweeted that he would decide I guess this week whether to pull out of the Paris climate accord. Where do things stand on that?

LIASSON: Well, there are two camps in the administration on this. On the one side, there are the globalists, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, his defense secretary, James Mattis, Jared Kushner. On the other side, there are the nationalists like Scott Pruitt at the EPA or Steve Bannon. They want him to get out. Certainly all the European leaders and the pope lobbied him last week to stay in. There are reports that he's leaning to pulling out. Whatever he does, this is going to be one of the most significant decisions the president makes. It's going to send an important message not just about global warming but how he sees the U.S. role fitting into an international response to this problem.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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