White House tensions rise as Hicks steps down and Trump slams Sessions

US president loses communications director; AG promises ‘integrity and honour’

Hope Hicks: the White House communications director stepped down after testifying in Congress as part of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Hope Hicks: the White House communications director stepped down after testifying in Congress as part of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

 

Tensions within the Trump White House appear to be increasing after the US president hit out at his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and lost a long-time member of staff.

Hope Hicks, a senior adviser to Donald Trump, confirmed she will step down in the coming weeks, the latest high-profile departure in an administration that has seen a high turnover of staff. Ms Hicks (29) was one of Mr Trump’s longest-serving advisers, working closely with the businessman during his presidential campaign. In recent months she had assumed the role of communications director, replacing Anthony Scaramucci, although her role was more broad-ranging.

The development came a day after Ms Hicks testified in Congress for almost nine hours as part of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Several media outlets reported that Ms Hicks refused to answer many of the House intelligence committee’s questions during the closed session on Tuesday. She is also reported to have told its members that she had been required to tell “white lies” on behalf of the US president.

Ms Hicks has in addition been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Moscow.

The low-profile adviser and former model found herself at the centre of the recent Rob Porter scandal, which saw the White House aide resign under a cloud of domestic-abuse allegations. Ms Hicks was said to be romantically involved with Mr Porter, and initially helped draft a statement defending him.

In a statement confirming her resignation, Ms Hicks said there were “no words” to adequately express her gratitude to Mr Trump. “I wish the president and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country,” she said. Mr Trump described Ms Hicks as outstanding and suggested he would work with her in the future, prompting speculation that she may work on his re-election campaign in 2020.

The departure of Ms Hicks is likely to be a blow to the president. His son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner had his full security clearance revoked this week because of problems with his FBI background check.

“DISGRACEFUL!”

Mr Trump was also said to be highly frustrated with Mr Sessions. In a tweet on Wednesday he hit out at the nation’s top justice official. “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse . . . Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” he said, referring to the investigation of surveillance abuse, which he said was being run by “an Obama guy”.

Mr Trump was previously reportedly furious with Mr Sessions about his decision, last year, to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the Mueller investigation is focusing on Mr Trump’s reported efforts to sack Mr Sessions last July, as part of its inquiry into a possible obstruction of justice.

In a statement following the president’s tweet, Mr Sessions insisted he had acted lawfully. “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and constitution,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, White House chief of staff John Kelly was asked about his role in the White House at an event on Thursday at the department of homeland security, which he headed before Mr Trump made him chief of staff, last summer.

“The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honours of my life, being the secretary of homeland security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess,” he said.