(AFP) – White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday in protest at a major shake-up of Donald Trump’s embattled administration, as pressure mounts from a broadening investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Spicer quit in opposition to Trump’s naming of Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier and longtime supporter of the billionaire investor-turned-president, as the new White House communications director, a White House official told AFP.
“It’s been an honor & a privilege to serve @POTUS @realDonaldTrump & this amazing country. I will continue my service through August,” Spicer tweeted.
“I am grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my administration and the American people,” Trump said in a statement read to a packed briefing room by the new White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Spicer’s former deputy.
“We have accomplished so much and (been) given credit for so little,” Trump added.
Scaramucci, who took the podium for the first time, dismissed reports of infighting, telling reporters: “I think the White House is on track.”
Spicer’s departure nevertheless appeared to escalate the tensions within the administration, with a knock-on effect as to how the White House is responding to an investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
In another blow, Mark Corallo — who coordinated the Trump legal team’s public response to the crisis over a probe into possible campaign collusion with Moscow — told AFP that he too had stepped down.
No reason was given for Corallo’s departure, and Spicer so far has remained publicly silent about his motive.
But the moves come after Trump waded into potentially perilous legal territory by warning investigators not to look into his family finances.
In an expansive interview with The New York Times earlier this week, Trump appeared to make that a red line for special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller is examining whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia’s apparent efforts to help tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.
Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but has struggled to explain why his eldest son and key aides met Russian operatives who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
– ‘Fundamental line’ –
With the investigation apparently extending to financial transactions, US media reported that Trump allies were looking into issuing presidential pardons and for ways to discredit Mueller’s investigation.
Trump himself has suggested that Mueller -— a widely respected former FBI director —- may have a conflict of interest.
“There is NO basis to question the integrity of Mueller or those serving with him in the special counsel’s office,” said former attorney general Eric Holder.
“Trump cannot define or constrain Mueller investigation. If he tries to do so this creates issues of constitutional and criminal dimension.”
The White House has pointedly refused to rule out the possibility that Trump would fire Mueller — an act that would prompt a political firestorm and perhaps a constitutional crisis.
Trump has already fired his FBI director James Comey over the Russia investigation and lashed out at his own attorney general Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the probe.
Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on a House of Representatives intelligence committee that is separately investigating Russian actions around the time of the election, also warned that Trump was wandering into dangerous territory.
“There is no doubt that Mueller has the authority to investigate anything that arises from his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including financial links,” Schiff said.
The top Democrat on the Senate’s intelligence committee, Mark Warner, warned that pardoning anybody who may have been involved “would be crossing a fundamental line.”