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White House press shop loses longtime staffer

Posted: 4:01 PM, Feb 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-19 17:01:44-05

The White House communications team is losing a longtime member as Lindsay Walters is set to depart the administration.

Walters will leave her post as deputy press secretary in April for a role as vice president of US public affairs at public relations firm Edelman, the White House announced Tuesday alongside a series of glowing on-record statements.

"There are few talents who also have the savvy, sophistication and street smarts to thrive inside a West Wing as intense as this one. Lindsay Walters is one of them. The President and all of his staff are thankful for her service and we wish her all the best," chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said.

Walters joined the administration at its beginning in January 2017. She previously worked on the Republican National Committee's press team as a spokeswoman under then-communications director Sean Spicer.

The announcement comes as the White House communications team undergoes a series of changes. Hogan Gidley was recently promoted to principal deputy press secretary with the departure of Raj Shah, who left for the private sector. Two additional deputy press secretaries, Judd Deere and Steven Groves, were added to the team, each with their own assigned areas of focus, a return to its original structure.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders will be the only remaining original high-level member of the White House press team after Walters' departure. Sanders and the first lady's communications director, Stephanie Grisham, both began as deputy press secretaries with Walters, but Grisham transitioned to the East Wing early in the administration.

Throughout the administration, the communications team has lacked a cohesive messaging strategy , marked in part by a total scarcity of the once-daily press briefings in the White House briefing room. The first -- and last -- briefing of 2019 was held January 28.

The White House has not filled the roles of many younger press aides who have departed, including in the "assistant press secretary" positions. In the past, those jobs have included responsibility for drafting talking points, writing fact sheets, issuing press releases and planning events to roll out the President's policy priorities.

Staffers in those roles also helped prepare the press secretary for the daily briefing, a task that no longer carries the same weight as the event has turned into a once-a-month affair.

There has been little urgency in filling the vacant roles, according to people familiar with the matter. Once viewed as a prime career-maker for young political operatives, there have not been a rush of candidates to fill empty seats. At the same time, the White House has not prioritized hiring new communications staffers, particularly as Trump's campaign conducts its own hiring heading into the 2020 re-election effort.

One person close to the matter said the diminished staffing has created the atmosphere of a crisis communications shop rather than an operation that can drive a message. Because only a few staffers remain, there is a lack of manpower for creating a broad messaging strategy, the person said.