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Trump team shakeup: Who's safe, who's on thin ice

With the White House struggling to contain one crisis after another, the resignation this week of the communications director served to fuel more speculation of an imminent staff shakeup.

Chief of staff, press secretary could be on chopping block in rumoured White House staff changes

President Donald Trump has reportedly expressed frustration with his his team, particularly those within communications, who have been unable to effectively dampen fires and control his message. (Evan Vucci/ Associated Press)

With the White House struggling to contain one crisis after another, the resignation this week of the communications director served to fuel speculation of an imminent staff shakeup.

On the job for only three months, Michael Dubke left, he said, for "personal reasons." But U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly expressed frustration with his his team, particularly those within communications, who have been unable to effectively dampen fires and control his message.

In some cases those things can be helpful; in some cases they're like putting a fresh set of paint on a building that's falling apart.- Matt Mackowiak, political consultant

"I think Trump feels a shakeup may give him a chance to refresh his presidency and recast it," said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist and D.C.-based political and crisis communications consultant.

"In some cases those things can be helpful, they can be effective; in some cases they're like putting a fresh set of paint on a building that's falling apart," he said.

Normally, such potential staff changes might be of interest purely to Washington insiders, but many of the key players in this administration have become pseudo celebrities in their own rights. Besides, said Mackowiak, new staffers may influence the behaviour of the president, who himself has been the source of many of the problems.

Here's a list of some of Trump's key staff members and their possible future in his administration:

Reince Priebus

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Priebus, the chief of staff, is believed to be in the most precarious position, along with press secretary Sean Spicer.

Nearly from the beginning of this administration some Trump backers have had their knives out for the former chair of the Republican National Committee, viewed by some as part of the party establishment. Now many hold Priebus responsible for problems within the White House.

There is also criticism that "he's in over his head, overwhelmed, [doesn't] have the right skill set for the job," said Tom Bevan, executive editor of RealClearPolitics.com

According to some reports, Priebus could be dispatched to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Greece. But Trump also values loyalty, so while Priebus may be removed from his current post, he could also be moved to another role in the administration.

"I don't really see him being out," said one Republican strategist who did not want to be identified. "It really was Priebus who stuck his neck out on the line a lot of times for Trump when people were bumpy on whether Trump could pull it off."

Sean Spicer

(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Mercilessly mocked on Saturday Night Live via a devastating impersonation by Melissa McCarthy, Spicer's testy exchanges with D.C. bureau reporters have become must-watch television. 

But while Spicer's briefings have generated unusually high ratings — a bonus for the ratings-conscious president — Trump has reportedly expressed frustration with his performance. More importantly, Spicer's fate may be linked to Priebus, who worked with him at the RNC and who lobbied for him for the role of press secretary.

There's talk Spicer's role could be minimized and that he could be replaced at the briefings podium by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has stood in for him. There are already plans to have cabinet secretaries come out more often to take questions from the press on specific issues, meaning more of a background role for Spicer.

Jared Kushner

(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Would the president fire his own son-in-law? 

Kushner, considered one of Trump's most trusted advisers, has nevertheless been a recent lightning rod for controversy over his contacts with Russian officials

But Trump has defended Kushner on Twitter, dismissing stories about him as "fabricated lies."

"I don't think Jared is in danger of being relieved of his duties," Bevan said. "Certainly people in the White House have more to fear than he does if there's a shakeup."

The Republican strategist said: "His son-in-law is his son-in-law. Whether or not he stays as the top go-to guy is a different story."

Steve Bannon

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Trump's chief strategist has been among the most controversial of Trump's hires, mainly for his ties to the alt-right. He has been portrayed as the Grim Reaper on Saturday Night Livea sketch that reportedly upset Trump for its insinuation that the president was a puppet being manipulated by Bannon. There were also reports the president was bothered by a Time magazine front page article about Bannon's influence over Trump.

​Meanwhile, Bannon's removal from the National Security Council principals committee and stories about spats between him Priebus and Kushner led many to believe his time at the White House may be limited.

But Bannon's public profile has receded, and he too is considered a loyalist to the president.

"Trump likes him and respects him. He comes from that 'America First' wing," said Bevan. "But at the same time it wouldn't shock me if there was a reorganization in the White House and he was included."

Kellyanne Conway

(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The counsellor to the president has certainly been a good soldier, even if there are stretches when she fades from the spotlight as one of his spokespeople. 

So far, there doesn't seem to be any fallout from recent claims by the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe that she complained about Trump to them before his election and said she was only campaigning for him for the money (claims Conway has dismissed).

"Trump loves her and has spoken in glowing terms about how she will take on all comers and ... battle," said Bevan.  "I think that's what he likes and respects about her, and she continues to do that."

Corey Lewandowski

(Evan Vucci/ Associated Press)

Trump's former campaign manager has been rumoured to be taking on a role in a new so-called war room being established to combat near-daily headlines relating to the Trump team's alleged ties to Russia. But whether Lewandowski would have an actual role inside the White House or play more of an outside advisory role is unknown. 

"Trump trusts him," said the Republican strategist. "The question is: Does anyone else in the White House trust Corey? I think that's a bigger issue."

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

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