If Donald Trump’s first year in the White House played out like reality television, it was due in part to a rotating cast of characters competing for the president’s ear – and his approval.
Few administrations have captured as many headlines for reports of infighting and competing interests. The behind-the-scenes drama spilled into full view last summer, when a series of high-profile aides departed the West Wing with a domino-like effect.
As Trump nears the one-year mark of his presidency, here is a look at the key players who came and went – and where they are now.
The rise and fall of Trump’s former chief strategist unexpectedly emerged as the biggest story of the new year after revelations from a book chronicling the first year of the Trump presidency roiled Washington.
In excerpts first published by the Guardian, Bannon denounced the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr and Russians as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”. Trump responded with an extraordinary attack, claiming Bannon had “lost his mind”.
Although Bannon issued a half-hearted apology, the damage was done. He soon lost the support of rightwing billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, both close allies of Trump. He later stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart News, a post he had reassumed after leaving the White House in August.
Bannon, who backed the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore despite Moore being accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls (allegations he denies), had vowed to wage war on the Republican establishment in the 2018 midterm elections. But the strategist, once referred to as “President Bannon” for his influence over Trump, is now a man without a country – and perhaps without a political future.
Few aides gained as high a profile as Spicer, the first White House press secretary to Trump, who memorably spent his first day on the job berating the press over the size of the president’s inauguration crowd. The combative tone of Spicer’s White House press briefings was ruthlessly mocked by Saturday Night Live, which chose Melissa McCarthy to portray his outbursts.
Although he regularly drew controversy – for everything from his failure to defend conspiracy theories touted by Trump to claiming Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” during the second world war – Spicer ultimately left the White House of his own volition. Spicer’s departure came after Trump decided, against his urging, to tap Anthony Scaramucci as the White House communications director in July.
Though many of his engagements since the White House have been kept private, Spicer was welcomed last fall as a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The decision was made public shortly after the school controversially revoked Chelsea Manning’s fellowship.
Spicer also made a cameo at the Emmy Awards in September, mocking his own falsehood about Trump’s inauguration crowd size. The appearance was pilloried for enabling Spicer to make light of lying to the American public. This month, Spicer expressed remorse over the moment, telling HLN’s SE Cupp: “There were times where I screwed up.”
Scaramucci’s 10-day stint as the White House communications director was record-breaking in its brevity. Dubbed “The Mooch”, the former Wall Street financier nonetheless kicked off a media frenzy during his short time inside the West Wing, due in part to a bombastic personality befitting his boss.
After vowing to professionalize Trump’s communications shop, Scaramucci was swiftly fired for excoriating other top White House aides in an expletive-laden interview with the New Yorker. Quotes included Scaramucci making vulgar comments about Steve Bannon, then Trump’s chief strategist, and referring to the then chief of staff, Reince Priebus, as a “paranoid schizophrenic”.
Despite his abrupt dismissal, Scaramucci has largely remained a loyal surrogate of Trump’s on television, prompting recent speculation that he may yet return to the West Wing. Scaramucci denied any current plans to return to the administration. His only known venture since leaving the White House is “the Scaramucci Post”, a media initiative that primarily drew attention for a Holocaust denial scandal after asking poll questions such as: “How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?”
Priebus joined the White House as its first chief of staff after chairing the Republican National Committee and proving a loyal supporter of Trump’s campaign. His influence was quickly the subject of scrutiny when Trump gave Steve Bannon equal importance, leading to multiple reports of friction between Bannon and Priebus over the fledgling administration’s direction.
Priebus resigned on the same day Scaramucci was fired for his profane interview slamming senior administration officials, including the chief of staff. Scaramucci alleged that Priebus was behind many of the media leaks that portrayed Trump’s White House as beset by chaos.
In October, Priebus returned to his former law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, as its president and chief strategist based in Washington. He also joined a lucrative speaking circuit and reportedly gave Trump strategic advice on the 2018 midterm elections.
Trump’s national security adviser resigned after it was revealed he misled the vice-president, Mike Pence, about the nature of his communications with the then Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. He was replaced by HR McMaster, a former US army officer and three-star general who remains Trump’s national security adviser today.
Flynn’s departure also came as the justice department warned the White House that Flynn could be subject to blackmail, cementing his status as a central figure in the FBI’s investigation into potential ties between Trump and Moscow. Flynn maintained a low profile in the months that followed, communicating with the media primarily through his lawyer as further revelations about his previously undisclosed work as a foreign agent came to light.
In December, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak and promised “full cooperation” in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The plea deal came after Flynn refused multiple subpoena requests from investigators in Congress as part of parallel inquiries into Russian interference in the US election.
Some departed without much fanfare, like Katie Walsh, who briefly served as deputy chief of staff before opting to push Trump’s agenda from outside the ranks. Walsh recently made headlines after reportedly making disparaging comments about Trump’s intelligence, according to Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. (She denies the authenticity of the quotes.)
Others, such as the former Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault, abruptly left in dramatic fashion. Manigault, who was Trump’s most senior African American adviser, was reportedly escorted off the grounds by security. She subsequently accused the White House of lacking diversity.