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Witcover: West Wing's new mouthpiece vows to uproot leakers

President Trump may finally have found the mouthpiece he wants. (July 24, 2017)

The departure of the hapless Sean Spicer as presidential press secretary caused no tears among the White House press corps. In a sense, it was a mercy firing. He was relieved of the obligation of humiliating himself and being humiliated by a boss whose lies and factual distortions had to be supported or cleaned up.

Mr. Spicer had readily swallowed the Trump Kool-Aid, enabling him to repeat the boss' fantasies and distortions to the assembled reporters. He did so at the price of any claim to being, as they say on Fox News, fair and balanced.

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For Mr. Spicer, particularly, it required a major gulp, inasmuch as his job description as press secretary was to provide unvarnished information to the American public about the often confusing views and actions of the president.

He started out in his job six months ago lying about the size of the crowd for Trump’s inauguration, and the rest of his tenure was mainly marked by belligerence and severely reduced access for the press.

In a sense, Mr. Spicer did that with the bark off. He happily relayed Mr. Trump's repeated verbal assaults and insults against anyone, Democrat or Republican, who took issue with him. Mr. Trump's serial misrepresentations of reality cast him as a miracle worker, whether in his vast business empire or now in the realm of politics.

Mr. Spicer showed no difficulty embellishing Mr. Trump's claims of success despite his failure to achieve even his most rudimentary promises. They included building a great wall along the southern border and making Mexico pay for it, and repealing Obamacare "on day one" and replacing it with a GOP version, about which he played no role in shaping.

Throughout Mr. Spicer's role as press secretary, he was a more than willing combatant in Mr. Trump's relentless assault on reporters covering them. Mr. Spicer, like Mr. Trump himself, often referred to their efforts as "fake news."

Mr. Spicer said that Mr. Trump wanted him to stay, but that he wanted to give the president a "clean slate" on which to write. Translation: Mr. Spicer had no desire to work under Mr. Trump's choice to run the White House Office of Communications, the slick-talking Wall Street sycophant Anthony Scaramucci.

Once in place, Mr. Scaramucci lost no time telling his new staff underlings through reporters that if they continued to leak to the press they would be summarily fired. "You want to sell postcards to the tourists outside the gates," he sarcastically asked, "or you want to work in the West Wing?"

The wisecrack seemed to be declaring staffers guilty until proven innocent, hardly a way to instill affection among the troops. But it was likely to sit well with his bully-prone boss in the Oval Office.

Mr. Scaramucci is a hedge-fund billionaire whose lack of experience in government and public policy matches Mr. Trump's own. In his initial appearances on television, in the White House press briefing room and on major network and cable Sunday talk shows, he demonstrated a more affable side compared to Mr. Spicer's hostile reign as press secretary. He also showed a willingness to answer reporters' inquiries himself, while pleading his own rookie status in the job.

He was deferential, too, to Mr. Spicer's replacement as press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who essentially has been a Mr. Spicer clone with somewhat less hostility toward the press.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during the daily press briefing, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during the daily press briefing, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci / AP)

At the same time, Mr. Scaramucci took expansive use of his new platform to repeatedly avow his undying "love" for the president. It raised some eyebrows about his likelihood to adhere to unvarnished facts and truth-telling in an administration whose leader so far has waged such open warfare on the news media.

The question now is whether, in all his extravagant expressions of affection for this president, Mr. Scaramucci can fairly oversee his administration's dealings with the men and women assigned to carry out their own independent obligations to inform the public on his performance in the Oval Office.

Or will he just "drain the swamp" of the alleged White House communications staff leakers of the chaos in the West Wing itself, as Mr. Trump vows to do with the rest of Washington?

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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