At the White House, Spicer out; Scaramucci, Sanders — and chaos — in – Washington Post

By Ashley Parker, and Damian Paletta,

President Trump overhauled his White House on Friday in a dramatic shake-up of his senior team at the six-month mark of his presidency, which so far has been beset by a special counsel’s widening Russia investigation, a floundering legislative agenda and seemingly constant chaos and infighting within his West Wing.

Trump’s decision Friday morning to install wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director set off an unexpected chain reaction, with White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigning in protest, according to people familiar with the departures. By afternoon, Spicer’s deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had been named to replace him.

As the reorganization unfolded throughout the day, Trump’s communications shop — not known for finely tuned messaging — offered its best attempt at a display of unity, a Kabuki-theater performance juxtaposing polite public statements with sniping and complaints behind the scenes. 

“The president wanted to bring on some folks, to add to the team,” Spicer said in a brief interview on Friday. “This is something you dream of. I can’t thank the president enough.”

Asked if he had any regrets, Spicer replied: “None.”

In a statement Sanders read during the daily briefing, Trump said he was “grateful for Sean’s work” and wished him “continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities — just look at his great television ratings.”

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called a private meeting of the White House communications staff Friday morning and said that Spicer, who will remain through August to help Scaramucci transition into the role, is leaving to give the new communications director “a clean slate,” according to someone briefed on the meeting who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

Priebus also tried to play down any tensions between him and Scaramucci, saying the two have known each other for a long time, and Scaramucci told his new team that he is not a “top-down” manager, this person said.

Scaramucci and Spicer then attempted an awkward hug, with Spicer stiffly accepting Scaramucci’s embrace, the person said. 

Spicer’s abrupt and angry departure — which caught even senior West Wing staffers by surprise — reflects the latest upheaval in a White House that has been consumed by tumult and warring factions since almost the day Trump took office. Bringing Scaramucci into the White House could further heighten tensions among Trump’s senior staff. 

Scaramucci has a contentious relationship with both Spicer and Priebus, each of whom vehemently objected to Trump’s decision to install him in the top communications job. Scaramucci has coined a particularly crude nickname for Priebus and, in private conversations with associates in recent weeks, repeatedly savaged both the chief of staff and the entire White House press operation.

Scaramucci has argued to confidants that the media operation mobilizes aggressively whenever critical coverage of Priebus emerges, but that it is far less diligent about defending the president himself, which he characterized as disloyal.

Priebus, meanwhile, previously blocked Scaramucci from several key White House jobs, including director of the office of public liaison. In a last-ditch attempt to keep Scaramucci out of the communications director role, Priebus offered him the public liaison job, a senior White House official said. 

A Priebus ally, however, rejected the notion that the chief of staff had tried to block Scaramucci, saying he was simply trying to slow down the process. 

Some Trump loyalists inside the West Wing view the hiring of Scaramucci over Priebus’s wishes — and the sudden resignation of Spicer — as a blow to Priebus’s already fraught standing with the president and his leadership of the senior staff.

“This exposes Reince as neither a leader nor a manager,” one senior White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. 

Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s senior strategist, also opposed the hiring, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Although Bannon — the former chairman of the conservative Breitbart News website — likes Scaramucci personally, he worried that the financier does not have the right set of skills for the job and symbolizes the corporate Wall Street interests that Bannon and others in the nationalist wing of the White House have railed against.

The communications post had been open since Michael Dubke vacated it in May.

The latest staff changes come amid growing legal headaches for Trump, as well as his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who during the campaign attended a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer promising incriminating information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 

Trump’s legal team, which underwent its own shake-up Thursday, has begun working to undermine the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia by looking into ways to highlight alleged conflicts of interest on Mueller’s team, The Washington Post reported Thursday. The president has also inquired about his pardon authority — including his ability to pardon aides, family members and even himself, according to people familiar with the effort.

Another wave of controversy washed over the administration late Friday when The Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepts show Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related issues with the Russian ambassador.

[Trump legal team seeks to control, block Mueller’s investigation]

Scaramucci addressed reporters Friday afternoon during a news conference, thanking Spicer for doing an “amazing job” and adding, “I love the guy. I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.”

Scaramucci insisted he has a good relationship with Priebus and said he offered to bring him on board as chief operating officer at his SkyBridge Capital company following the 2012 presidential campaign. Priebus, then the head of the Republican National Committee, declined the offer, he said.

“We’re a little bit like brothers,” Scaramucci said. “We rough each other up a bit, and that’s totally normal for brothers. He’s a dear friend.”

But in the same briefing, he also made clear whom he views as his ultimate boss, saying he has “no problem working for Reince,” but adding: “The president said I report to him directly.”

Several times during Friday’s briefing, Scaramucci said he loved the president and that his goal is to make sure Trump’s message is heard by the public and better represented in the media.

“I think there’s been, at times, a disconnect between the way we see the president and how much we love the president and the way some of you perhaps see the president,” he said. “And I certainly see the American people probably see the president the way I do. But we want to get that message out there.”

Ivanka Trump, her husband, Kushner, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had all been pushing Scaramucci for the job — and on Friday, as some West Wing officials made a final plea to the president to rethink his decision, both his daughter and son-in-law reached out to Scaramucci, to reassure him, according to a senior White House official. 

The president has been particularly taken in recent weeks with Scaramucci’s hard-charging defenses of his administration on cable TV news, several people familiar with his views said. The president was impressed with how Scaramucci — known as “the Mooch” — fought back against a CNN article about himself, ultimately leading to the resignation of three CNN staffers involved with the story. Trump views Scaramucci as a natty combatant with a smile. 

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, complimented Spicer’s service to Trump and praised Scaramucci in a brief interview. “Like the president, Anthony is a tough, self-made, successful New Yorker who can be both a street fighter and run a C-suite meeting,” she said. “The president likes that.”

Scaramucci was slated to join the White House in another capacity earlier this year, but he had challenges resolving ethical conflicts associated with SkyBridge Capital, which he sold to a Chinese conglomerate with ties to the government just before Trump’s inauguration.

On Friday, he told reporters he has been assured by government ethics officials and the White House counsel that there should be no obstacles to him joining the administration now.

“My start date is going to be in a couple of weeks, so that it’s a — 100 percent totally cleansed and clean,” he said.

Spicer’s allies, in explaining his departure, said he feared Scaramucci would be communications director in name only because he has little experience working in either communications or politics. Spicer also wanted the new communications director to report to him, which would not have been the case with Scaramucci. Instead, Spicer worried he would find himself serving in two roles simultaneously, even while Scaramucci fell outside his chain of command, these allies said.

“This is a joke,” said one person close to the press office. “Trump wanted Scaramucci on television as a surrogate for the White House and wanted to give him a more formal title.”

Spicer’s resignation marks a sudden end to a short and rocky tenure. The press secretary undercut his credibility during his first full day on the job when, at Trump’s urging, he publicly made false statements about the size of the president’s Inauguration Day crowds.

Trump regularly nitpicked and criticized Spicer’s on-camera briefings, polling his friends about how long he should retain Spicer in the high-profile role. There were other slights. During his first trip abroad, Trump pointedly kept Spicer, a devout Catholic, from a meeting with Pope Francis.

Spicer, a longtime Republican communications operative in Washington, began his time at the podium with a warm relationship with the press corps. But just six months later, many now associate him primarily with his red-faced shouting binges and his caricature on “Saturday Night Live,” where he was ruthlessly parodied by actress Melissa McCarthy dressed as a man.

In private, Scaramucci seemed to have at least entertained the idea of the top communications post since June. Speaking at former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s private retreat in Deer Valley, Utah, last month, Scaramucci said that he believed the White House was faltering in part because the communications director job was empty and that communicating directly with the public was the key imperative of this White House, according to one attendee. 

If he were in the role, Scaramucci continued, he would consider starting a daily administration “television” broadcast at 7 a.m., complete with a desk on the White House lawn and guests that included Democratic leaders.

“I like Anthony, but Pelosi and Schumer aren’t going on his state-run morning show,” the attendee said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The attendee spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of a private discussion.

Spicer, meanwhile, said in the brief interview that he hopes he is just “midway through the book” of his life. This most recent chapter, he said, might best be entitled, “Exciting Times.” 

Rosalind S. Helderman, Philip Rucker and Ben Terris contributed to this report.

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Minneapolis police chief forced out in wake of shooting death of an unarmed Australian woman by officer – Washington Post

Australia native Justine Damond, 40, who was set to marry her fiance in August, was fatally shot by a police officer on Saturday, July 15. Few details have been revealed about the incident. Here’s what we know. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Minneapolis chief of police Janeé Harteau has resigned, forced out by the city’s mayor after a police officer fatally shot an Australian woman in a case that has drawn international scrutiny and criticism.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement that, “I’ve lost confidence in the Chief’s ability to lead us further.”

“For us to continue to transform policing — and community trust in policing — we need new leadership at MPD.”

My statement on @MinneapolisPD Chief Janeé Harteau:

— Betsy Hodges (@MayorHodges) July 21, 2017

In a statement, Harteau said “I have decided to step aside to let a fresh set of leadership eyes see what more can be done for the MPD to be the best it can be.”

Resignation Statement from

— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) July 21, 2017

Justine Damond’s death has largely been cloaked in mystery since the 40-year-old was fatally shot, with officials only gradually releasing some details. According to police records and Damond’s relatives, she had called 911 just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday to report what she thought was a possible rape occurring near her home.

Transcripts of Damond’s 911 calls, made public Wednesday, show that she called twice, first summoning officers to her home and then, several minutes later, making sure they had the address right because she could still hear the woman’s screams.

When two officers arrived, investigators said, they were driving near her home with their squad car lights off when a loud noise startled Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving. Harrity, who spoke to investigators on Tuesday, said that immediately after the noise, Damond approached his open window and Officer Mohamed Noor, sitting in the passenger seat, fired one shot at her through the window.

An incident report released Wednesday showed that at 11:41 p.m., the officers reported a shooting incident and began performing CPR. Damond was pronounced dead 10 minutes later, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, killed by a gunshot wound to her abdomen. Her death was ruled a homicide.

In a blog post Thursday, Hodges said that based on information that investigators have released publicly, “the fatal shooting of Justine Damond should not have happened.”

She has been sharply critical of the fact that even though every patrol officer in Minneapolis wears a body camera, neither officer present when Damond was fatally shot late Saturday activated theirs, preventing authorities from having potentially key footage of what happened.

At a news conference Thursday, Harteau said that “Justine didn’t have to die.”

“I believe the actions in question go against who we are as a department, how we train and the expectations we have for our officers.”

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No public testimony next week for Trump Jr. and Manafort – Los Angeles Times

Here’s our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:

No public testimony next week for Trump Jr. and Manafort

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, will not testify publicly next week under a deal worked out Friday with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The two will meet with committee members and staff privately, the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), announced. Grassley said they were still expected to give public testimony later.

Grassley said that another witness, Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, an investigative firm based in Washington, would be subpoenaed after declining to testify.

Simpson’s firm hired a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to look into reports that Russian intelligence held compromising information about Trump. Steele produced a lengthy dossier of reported kompromat, which became public shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

Trump has denied the accusations in the dossier.

Simpson’s attorney has said he would resist the subpoena, arguing that the committee’s questions would violate his client’s 1st Amendment rights as well as his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Latest updates

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

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The ‘Spicey’ show comes to an end: Sean Spicer quits as White House press secretary – Washington Post

By ,

Sean Spicer had not fully moved into his West Wing office in January when he interrupted an informal chat with reporters to show off a prized new possession — the ceremonial White House press secretary flak jacket passed down by his predecessors.

It was meant to symbolize the incoming blasts from reporters. But for Spicer, who announced his resignation Friday after just six tumultuous months on the job, it was the crossfire from inside the West Wing that brought him down.

To a degree unseen before at the White House lectern, Spicer, 45, became a household name, a constant target for critics and late-night comics. He was lampooned on television and social media as the chief spokesman for a White House that is frequently off message and prone to falsehoods. He gained a reputation as a pugnacious, often tongue-tied defender of a boss in President Trump who never really wanted him in the job and always thought he could do better at defending himself.

On Friday, as news broke that Trump had hired Anthony Scaramucci, a brash New York financier, as his new communications director over Spicer’s personal objections, the situation was no longer sustainable. Trump, who undercut Spicer time and again and dragged him through a series of public humiliations, had made clear he no longer had much use for him.

“Better to give them an opportunity to have a clean slate and evaluate what we’ve done — to figure out what’s working and what needs to be improved upon,” Spicer said in a brief telephone interview with The Washington Post. Ever the loyal staffer, Spicer said he would remain at the White House through August to help smooth the transition for Scaramucci and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Spicer’s deputy who was promptly named to replace him.

“It’s been an unbelievable honor and privilege,” Spicer said. “This is something you dream of. I can’t thank the president enough.”

The dramatic denouement was an appropriate metaphor for a Trump White House that has been defined by backbiting and infighting. But the decline that led to Spicer’s departure has been long in the making and extraordinarily public in its nature.

The humiliations started with his first appearance at the lectern a day after Trump’s inauguration, when Spicer, in an ill-fitting light-gray suit, insisted in strident tones that reporters had sought to undermine the new president by comparing his inaugural crowd unfavorably to the historic size of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer declared, a statement that was proved false by fact-checkers and obviously wrong to the naked eye of any impartial observer. Spicer left the room without taking questions.

It was later revealed that Trump, angered by cable news coverage of empty expanses on the Mall, had personally ordered up the performance.

“The job as White House press secretary is hard to begin with, but when you’re being undercut by your boss and his senior people are providing false information, that makes it nearly impossible to do the job,” said Jennifer Psaki, who served as White House communications director and State Department press secretary under Obama. “What I saw was somebody who clearly was put in a compromising and difficult position at the White House podium.”

Spicer was never an obvious match for a president who had no Washington political experience and reveled in a freewheeling campaign in which he dominated the airwaves with outlandish and often conflicting statements. Spicer, who was not part of Trump’s campaign, was a prototypical Beltway insider and Republican Party loyalist who had served as spokesman for the Republican National Committee when it was overseen by Reince Priebus, now the White House chief of staff.

It was Priebus who persuaded Trump to name Spicer to the job.

“Sean kind of tried to bridge two worlds — old Washington and new Washington,” said Dana Perino, who served as President George W. Bush’s press secretary. “He did the best he could.”

Spicer made changes to the ritual of the daily briefing aimed at placating Trump, who harangued the press corps as “fake news” and reacted to news several times a day in real time on Twitter.

Spicer called more frequently on reporters from conservative news outlets. He installed monitors in the briefing room that beamed in live questions over Skype from news organizations outside the Beltway. And he held one smaller “gaggle” for reporters in his office that excluded several major news outlets, including the New York Times.

But it was his live, on-camera briefings that became appointment viewing. Spicer spoke quickly and forcefully, but he was prone to flubbing attempts to match the hyperbole and rhetorical flourishes of his boss. He was forced to apologize after he asserted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed more red lines than Adolf Hitler because the Nazi leader had never gassed his own people.

The briefings were entertaining, if at times surreal, and the ratings reflected it. That cut both ways for Trump, a New York real estate promoter who had made a fortune in reality television. Trump appeared to offer a backhanded compliment about Spicer’s notoriety in thanking him Friday.

“I’m grateful for Sean’s work on behalf my administration and the American people,” Trump said in a statement. “I wish him success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities — just look at his great television ratings.”

Yet in recent weeks, the public perception of Spicer stumbling around the briefing room spraying water guns at reporters — as popularized by Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of “Spicey” on “Saturday Night Live” — was no longer in step, even as satire, with his actual role at the White House. Spicer had largely disappeared from public view, relegated to a behind-the-scenes role for a White House that had lost control of the narrative amid the mounting Russia investigation.

Reports that Spicer had eluded reporters by ducking behind bushes in the West Wing driveway on the night Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director became a meme for a spokesman who did not know how to explain what his boss was doing.

The press office had not conducted a televised briefing in more than three weeks before Friday, and Sanders had taken over at the off-camera sessions. Spicer, a devout Catholic whom Trump had denied an audience with Pope Francis on a visit to the Vatican in May, did not travel with the president on his most recent trip to Paris.

Perino said Spicer’s relatively graceful exit is likely to preserve his relationship with Trump, adding that he “has a story that’s so amazing that he’ll be able to tell it for years.”

In the briefing room, Scaramucci put it a little bit differently, bidding Spicer good luck in a way that perhaps showed why he’s better suited for Trump: “I hope he goes on to make a lot of money.”

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Teenagers Recorded a Drowning Man and Laughed, but Face No Charges – New York Times

The video was shocking in Florida, where shocking videos seem like a genre. A group of teenagers laughed and watched as a man struggled in the water of a pond. The man drowned, and his body was not found for days.

The five teenagers did nothing to help him, not even call 911, but after examining the video the authorities said this week that they did not break the law.

“In the state of Florida, there is no law in place that requires a person to render aid or call to render aid to a victim in distress,” said Yvonne Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department, said on Friday. Later in the day, she said the police were continuing to look for other laws that might have been broken.

The man, Jamel Dunn, 31, drowned on July 9, and his body was found five days later when the police received a report that it was floating near the edge of the pond in a local park in Cocoa, a town of 18,000 people near Orlando.

As detectives investigated the death over the weekend, a family member of Mr. Dunn’s alerted them to the video, which the teenagers had begun sharing with friends.

The police asked the office of Phil Archer, the state attorney for Brevard and Seminole counties, to review the footage. But the prosecutor’s office said it did not contain the evidence needed for a criminal prosecution.

In the statement, the prosecutor’s office said it was nonetheless “deeply saddened and shocked” by how Mr. Dunn died and the failure of the teenagers to help him in any way.

The low-quality, 2.5-minute cellphone video, was provided to The Times by Mr. Archer’s office and earlier obtained by Florida Today. It shows a man flailing in the middle of a body of water as the teenagers describe his struggle and laugh at him from the shore of the pond.

One of the teenagers, using an expletive, calls Mr. Dunn a junkie. Someone tells him not to expect any assistance: “Ain’t nobody going to help you, you dumb bitch. You shouldn’t have got in there,” he says.

About a minute into the video, the man appears to let out a whimper before submerging, fully, underwater.

“He just died!” a voice can be heard saying, as the others begin to laugh.

Later, one of the teenagers appears to suggest that they call the police, only to be rejected by another.

The police identified and met with all five, who ranged in age from 14 to 18, Ms. Martinez said. None appeared to show much emotion.

“What I saw was not remorseful,” she said.

A Facebook user named Simone Scott, who identified herself online as Mr. Dunn’s sister, expressed frustration with the investigation and said “something should be done” in a video live-streamed on the social network on Thursday. A funeral service will be held a week from Saturday, Ms. Scott said on Facebook. She did not respond to a request for an interview.

“If they can sit there and watch somebody die in front of their eyes, imagine what they’re going to do when they get older?” she said about the teenagers.

She expressed frustration with the investigation and said she wondered how Mr. Dunn, who she said was disabled and walked with a cane, ended up in the middle of the pond.

Surveillance footage obtained on Thursday from a neighbor showed that Mr. Dunn entered the pond on his own and did not appear to be coerced or forced to go in, Ms. Martinez said.

Although the teenagers cannot be charged for failing to help Mr. Dunn, town officials said later Friday that they were weighing other options. They believe a different Florida law requires any person who is aware of a death to report it, and they will ask the state prosecutor to consider charging them under that law.

“While this in no way will bring justice for what occurred, it is a start,” Henry Parrish, III, the mayor of Cocoa, said in a statement. “I know that everyone working on this investigation has been tireless in their efforts to find answers.”

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US State Department to clamp ban on travel to North Korea – Reuters

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Friday said it will bar Americans from traveling to North Korea due to the risk of “long-term detention” in the country, where a U.S. student was jailed while on a tour last year and later died.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has authorized a “Geographical Travel Restriction” on Americans to forbid them from entering North Korea, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“Once in effect, U.S. passports will be invalid for travel to, through and in North Korea, and individuals will be required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea,” Nauert said.

The move was due to “mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement,” she said.

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American was sentenced last year to 15 years hard labor in North Korea for trying to steal a propaganda sign while on a tourist visit.

He returned to the United States in a coma on June 13 after being released on humanitarian grounds and died June 19. The circumstances surrounding his death are not clear, including why he fell into a coma.

North Korea has said through its state media that Warmbier’s death was “a mystery” and dismissed accusations that he had died as a result of torture and beating in captivity.

North Korea is currently holding two Korean-American academics and a missionary, a Canadian pastor and three South Korean nationals who were doing missionary work. Japan says North Korea has also detained at least several dozen of its nationals.

It was not known how many Americans were currently in North Korea and the State Department said it was not its practice to give numbers of U.S. citizens living in or travelling to a particular country.

U.S. officials say North Korea will become the only country in the world Americans are banned from visiting.

The department said it plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register next week, starting a 30-day clock before the restriction takes effect, Nauert said.

FILE PHOTO: The 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, the highest building under construction in North Korea, is seen from inside another hotel’s room in Pyongyang, North Korea May 7, 2016.Damir Sagolj/File Photo

She said Americans who wanted to travel to North Korea “for certain limited humanitarian or other purposes” could apply for special passports to do so.

North Korea allows foreign tourists to visit but their travel is strictly limited.

Hundreds of Americans are among the roughly 4,000 to 5,000 Western tourists who visit North Korea each year, according to U.S. Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina.

This year, Wilson introduced a bill with Democratic Representative Adam Schiff to ban Americans from travelling to North Korea as tourists, following the detention of at least 17 U.S. citizens in the past decade.

FILE PHOTO: A guide wearing a traditional dress speaks to visitors at the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea May 4, 2016.Damir Sagolj/File Photo

Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former U.S. Treasury official, said the State Department action was important as it would limit North Korea’s ability to use detained Americans as bargaining chips with Washington as it has in the past.

Tom Bodkin, managing director of the UK-based adventure travel company, Secret Compass, said the travel ban was “a bit of a shame.”

“Travel between different cultures breaks down the preconceptions that you have about different cultures and breaks down the stereotypes that you have,” he said.

Secret Compass has brought three Americans among the 19 people it took to North Korea since launching tours there last fall, he said.

U.S. Army veteran Brian Sayler, 40, who traveled to North Korea for six days in May, said he opposed the pending ban.

“We’re telling our own people, essentially, you can’t go where you want to go, I don’t really understand it,” said Sayler, a resident of West Pittston, Pennsylvania, who works as a police officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear warhead.

North Korea this month test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts believe has the range to reach Alaska and Hawaii and perhaps the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul and Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Yeganeh Torbati and Jack Kim; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Brown

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Sean Spicer Resigns as White House Press Secretary – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday after denouncing chaos in the West Wing and telling President Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

After offering Mr. Scaramucci the communications job Friday morning, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Spicer to stay on as press secretary. But Mr. Spicer told Mr. Trump that he believed the appointment of Mr. Scaramucci was a major mistake and said he was resigning, according to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

In one of his first official acts, Mr. Scaramucci, who founded the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital and is a Fox News contributor, joined Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr. Spicer’s chief deputy, in the White House briefing room and announced that she would succeed Mr. Spicer as press secretary.

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He said he had great respect for Mr. Spicer, adding, “I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.” But he acknowledged the awkwardness of Mr. Spicer’s resignation. “This is obviously a difficult situation to be in,” Mr. Scaramucci said.

Ms. Sanders said Mr. Trump was grateful for Mr. Spicer’s service and that the president believes Mr. Spicer will succeed going forward. “Just look at his great television ratings,” Mr. Trump said in a statement read by Ms. Sanders.

Mr. Spicer’s rumored departure has been one of the longest-running internal sagas in an administration brimming with dissension and intrigue. A former Republican National Committee spokesman and strategist, Mr. Spicer was a frequent target of the president’s ire — and correctives — during the first few months of the administration.

His turbulent tenure as the president’s top spokesman was marked by a combative style with the news media that spawned a caricature of him on “Saturday Night Live.” He had hoped to last a year. He lasted six months and a day.

The resignation is a serious blow to the embattled White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party chairman who brought Mr. Spicer into the West Wing despite skepticism from Mr. Trump, who initially questioned his loyalty. Mr. Scaramucci described his relationship with Mr. Priebus as a brotherly one where they “rough each other up.” He called Mr. Priebus a “good friend.”

Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has grown critical of both Mr. Spicer and Mr. Priebus, whom he regards as party establishment figures who operate out of self-interest.

Mr. Kushner also supported Mr. Trump’s decision to supplant Marc Kasowitz as his lead attorney on matters pertaining to Russia, according to people familiar with the situation.

Mr. Scaramucci was to meet with Mr. Priebus on Friday, according to a West Wing official — and applause could be heard in the second-floor communications hallway when Mr. Scaramucci was introduced. Mr. Priebus denied that there is friction with Mr. Scaramucci.

For his part, Mr. Spicer said it had been an “honor” and “privilege” to serve Mr. Trump.

Senior officials, including Ms. Sanders, Mr. Spicer’s top deputy, were said to be stunned by the sudden shuffle.

Mr. Spicer has agreed to stay on for two weeks to a month, and Mr. Trump has told his advisers he is open to rotating new people into the briefing room, including one of the president’s personal favorites, Sebastian Gorka, a blustery foreign policy official who has been accused of having ties to far-right groups in Europe.

During the transition, Mr. Trump had planned to appoint Mr. Scaramucci, a 52-year-old Harvard Law graduate from Long Island, as director of his office of public liaison, but the offer was pulled at the request of Mr. Priebus over concerns about Mr. Scaramucci’s overseas investments.

His appointment Friday came two months after the previous communications director, Mike Dubke, stepped down. Mr. Trump was frustrated with Mr. Priebus over the slow pace of finding a replacement, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the situation.

Mr. Trump made the appointment over the objection of Mr. Priebus, who thought Mr. Scaramucci lacked the requisite organizational or political experience. But the president believed Mr. Scaramucci, a ferocious defender of Mr. Trump’s on cable television, was best equipped to play the same role in-house, and he offered him a role with far-reaching powers independent of Mr. Priebus’s.

Mr. Spicer flatly rejected the president’s offer of a position subordinate to Mr. Scaramucci, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange.

The appointment of Mr. Scaramucci, a favorite of Mr. Trump’s earliest campaign supporters, was backed by the president’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law and adviser Mr. Kushner and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the officials said.

Ms. Sanders will inherit one of the toughest public relations jobs in modern political history. The job of press secretary, once regarded as among the most coveted slots in Washington, a steppingstone to fame and a big post-government payday, has lost much of its allure under a president who tweets his opinions and considers himself to be his best spokesman.

Mr. Spicer, according to several people close to him, was tired of being blindsided by Mr. Trump, most recently this week when the president gave a lengthy interview to The New York Times in which he questioned his appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He was also weary of the daily dressings-down and instituted the highly contentious practice of holding off-air briefings, less so to snub reporters than to avoid Mr. Trump’s critiques of his performance, according to one of Mr. Spicer’s friends.

Shortly after Mr. Spicer’s resignation became public, the White House press office announced Ms. Sanders would hold the first on-air briefing since June 29.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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Spicer resigns as press secretary, Scaramucci to be White House communications director – Washington Post

By , Ashley Parker and Damian Paletta,

White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday, following the appointment of wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, according to a White House official.

Spicer’s abrupt and angry departure — which caught even senior West Wing staffers by surprise — reflects the latest upheaval in a White House that has been consumed by chaos and staff infighting since almost the day President Trump took office.

 Scaramucci has previously had a tense and fraught relationship with both Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who both vehemently objected to Trump’s decision to install Scaramucci in the top communications job. Scaramucci has coined a particularly crude nickname for Preibus, and Preibus previously blocked the financier from several other top White House roles. 

Scaramucci had been in talks with the president and senior staff all week. But the shake-up comes admit intensifying tumult at the White House as Trump moves to respond to the widening special counsel probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government and searches for ways to revive the administration’s stalled legislative agenda.

Trump officially offered the position to Scaramucci, who he has become closer to in recent weeks, at a meeting with senior staff in the Oval Office on Friday morning. And Thursday, Trump, Vice President Pence, Scaramucci and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, also huddled privately in the Oval Office to discuss Scaramucci’s new role.

On Friday morning, the West Wing scrambled to present a united public front. Preibus called a private meeting of the White House communications staff, and made clear that Spicer, who is expected to help Scaramucci transition into the role, is leaving to give the new communications director “a clean slate,” according to someone briefed on the meeting. 

Preibus also tried to play down any tensions with Scaramucci, saying the two have known each other for a long time, and Scaramucci told his new team that he is not a “top down” manager, this person said.

Scaramucci and Spicer also hugged.

But bringing Scaramucci into the White House is likely to increase the backbiting and tension among Trump’s senior staff, especially with Priebus, with whom he has clashed in the past. The communications post has remained open since it was vacated by Michael Dubke in May.

Bringing Scaramucci into the fold represents the most significant shake-up yet for a communications shop that has struggled to amplify the president’s message on the administration’s core economic and national security priorities.

Scaramucci, a Trump campaign loyalist backed by Trump’s children, was slated to join the White House in another capacity early on, but he had challenges resolving ethical conflicts associated with his fund, SkyBridge Capital, which he sold to a Chinese conglomerate with ties to the government just before Trump’s inauguration. Trump has also been impressed by Scaramucci’s frequent appearances as a defender on cable news.

At the same time, Trump’s legal team is also in flux. Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, will step back from his central role in the president’s outside legal team with John M. Dowd, a seasoned Washington attorney with a focus on white-collar crime, now taking the lead in managing the president’s defense. Mark Corallo, a longtime GOP operative who had served as a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, resigned Thursday.

The president has become agitated by the possibility that special counsel Robert Mueller might begin looking into Trump and his family’s personal finances. In an interview this week with the New York Times, the president issued a warning to Mueller that such a move would be a “violation.”

“Let’s go back to what the purpose of the investigation was: Russian interference in our election,” said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking on Fox News Friday morning. She added, “Where is this going and are Americans comfortable with that — with the taxpayers funding this, with this going off all types of chutes and ladders?”

Trump’s legal team has begun working to undermine the special counsel probe, including investigating ways to highlight conflicts of interest on Mueller’s, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The president has also inquired about his pardon authority.

After the story was published, one of Trump’s attorneys, Dowd, said it was “not true” and “nonsense.”

One Trump adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

The idea that Trump would proactively pardon people involved in the Russia investigation was immediately criticized by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible Trump campaign collusion. 

“The possibility that the President is considering pardons at this early stage in these ongoing investigations is extremely disturbing,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement. “Pardoning any individuals who may have been involved would be crossing a fundamental line.”

The White House has struggled to remain focused on its agenda, amid the constant drumbeat of the Russia investigation. The president himself has only fueled the Russia frenzy, giving an interview on Wednesday in which he talked extensively about the probe.

Last week, the White House announced that another attorney, Ty Cobb, would join the White House to help manage the response to the investigation internally.

On Friday morning, when asked if Scaramucci would join the White House, Conway praised him but did not confirm that the decision was settled.

“All I can say is in speaking with the president and others that, you know, we have a great communications team already,” Conway said. “Anthony Scaramucci is somebody who has been an incredible asset to President Trump all during the campaign, the transition, and now he is one of the killers on TV who goes out there, thinks the president is being treated very unfairly, and we don’t get any of the economic news out there, even though our press and communications shop tries.”

“The president has confidence in all of the people who work for him, and we know that Anthony is someone who is a friend to the administration,” she added.

Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.

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Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation – Washington Post

By , Ashley Parker, and ,

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.

Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed. All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.

Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” said a close adviser to the president.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s private lawyers, said in an interview Thursday that the president and his legal team are intent on making sure Mueller stays within the boundaries of his assignment as special counsel. He said they will complain directly to Mueller if necessary.  

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow said. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump’s business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008. 

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

 The president has long called the FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible coordination with the Russians a “witch hunt.” But now, Trump is coming face-to-face with a powerful investigative team that is able to study evidence of any crime it encounters in the probe — including tax fraud, lying to federal agents and interference in the investigation.

“This is Ken Starr times 1,000,” said one lawyer involved in the case, referring to the independent counsel who oversaw an investigation that eventually led to House impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. “Of course, it’s going to go into his finances.” 

Following Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey — in part because of his displeasure with the FBI’s Russia investigation — Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in a written order. That order gave Mueller broad authority to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” and any crimes committed in response to the investigation, such as perjury or obstruction of justice.

Mueller’s probe has already expanded to include an examination of whether Trump obstructed justice in his dealings with Comey, as well as the business activities of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

Trump’s team could potentially challenge whether a broad probe of Trump’s finances prior to his candidacy could be considered a matter that arose “directly” from an inquiry into possible collusion with a foreign government.

The president’s legal representatives have also identified what they allege are several conflicts of interest facing Mueller, such as donations to Democrats by some of his prosecutors.

Another potential conflict claim is an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011, two White House advisers said. A spokesman for Mueller said there was no dispute when Mueller, who was FBI director at the time, left the club.

Trump also took public aim on Wednesday at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein, whose actions led to Mueller’s appointment. In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, the president said he never would have nominated Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the case.

Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.

Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller.

“Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”

Law enforcement officials described Sessions as increasingly distant from the White House and the FBI because of the strains of the Russia investigation. 

Traditionally, Justice Department leaders have sought to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from the White House as a means of ensuring prosecutorial independence.

But Sessions’s situation is more unusual, law enforcement officials said, because he has angered the president for apparently being too independent while also angering many at the FBI for his role in the president’s firing of Comey. 

As a result, there is far less communication among those three key parts of the government than in years past, several officials said. 

Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.

“This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,” said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question.

The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.

No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

“There is no predicting what would happen,” said Kalt, author of the book, “Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies.” It includes chapters on the ongoing debate over whether presidents can be prosecuted while in office and on whether a president can issue a pardon to himself.

Other White House advisers have tried to temper Trump, urging him to simply cooperate with the probe and stay silent on his feelings about the investigation.

On Monday, lawyer Ty Cobb, newly brought into the White House to handle responses to the Russian probe, convened a meeting with the president and his team of lawyers, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Cobb, who is not yet on the White House payroll, was described as attempting to instill some discipline in how the White House handles queries about the case. But Trump surprised many of his aides by speaking at length about the probe to the New York Times two days later. Cobb, who officially joins the White House team at the end of the month, declined to comment for this article.

Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else. There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. “For example, we would not allow a judge to preside over his or her own trial,” Kalt said.

A president can pardon an individual at any point, including before the person is charged with a crime, and the scope of a presidential pardon can be very broad. President Gerald Ford pardoned former president Richard M. Nixon preemptively for offenses he “committed or may have committed” while in office.

Devlin Barrett and Sari Horwitz contributed to this report. 

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