Donald Trump announces Mick Mulvaney on Twitter as acting chief of staff

December 17, 2018 GMT

Mick Mulvaney showed up for a shutdown planning meeting with President Trump on Friday afternoon as his budget chief. Soon afterward, the president surprised the country and apparently his own advisers by tweeting that he had made Mr. Mulvaney his chief of staff.

It was classic Trump: announcing the biggest of moves in 280-character bites on Twitter and leaving his staff to play catch-up, working on the fly to carry out the surprise decision.

Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Trump struck again. He took to Twitter to detail the ouster of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who left under a cloud of ethics accusations and a Justice Department investigation.


“Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” Mr. Trump tweeted. He said a replacement will be named this week.

The moves are part of a dizzying year-end shake-up as Mr. Trump retools the White House ahead of his confrontation with divided government in Washington.

He cut loose Attorney General Jeff Sessions shortly after the Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats won control of the House.

He gave Chief of Staff John F. Kelly the heave-ho two weeks ago in a tweet, saying the retired Marine Corps general would be gone by the end of the year.

The president has hinted that other staff changes are on the way, although he said that for the most part he “loves” his Cabinet secretaries.

Mr. Zinke was in the crosshairs for months.

The former congressman was dogged by scandals, including high-priced travel on government planes and reports of a shady land deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, that involved the Zinke family and Halliburton Chairman David J. Lesar.

The Interior Department inspector general referred the land deal investigation to the Justice Department.

Mr. Zinke has denied any wrongdoing.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who will lead the House Natural Resources Committee next year, had promised an investigation into the land deal.

Capitol Hill Democrats piled on to vilify the ousted secretary, who also was despised by environmentalists.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called Mr. Zinke one of “the most toxic members of the Cabinet.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is poised to become speaker, called him a “shameless handmaiden for the special interests.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, called for criminal investigations to continue after suspicions that Mr. Zinke provided political favors in blocking a tribal casino in Connecticut.


“Possible criminal culpability must be pursued even after he leaves office,” Mr. Blumenthal tweeted.

Environmentalists cheered Mr. Zinke’s departure but were unhappy that Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil executive, would be stepping into the job even temporarily.

“Zinke will go down as the worst interior secretary in history,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “His slash-and-burn approach was absolutely destructive for public lands and wildlife. Allowing David Bernhardt to continue to call the shots will still be just as ugly. Different people, same appetite for greed and profit.”

For the chief of staff position, Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Mulvaney after the job was declined by two other top contenders, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Mr. Mulvaney, a former House member from South Carolina, is one of Mr. Trump’s most trusted lieutenants and has frequently been in the running for top administration jobs.

“Mick has done an outstanding job while in the administration,” tweeted Mr. Trump. “I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to make America great again!”

He called Mr. Kelly “a great patriot.”

The abrupt announcement had White House officials scrambling to explain the “acting” status for Mr. Mulvaney, who is not giving up his title of Office of Management and Budget director.

“That’s what the president wants,” a White House official said.

More than two hours later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement clarifying Mr. Mulvaney’s role.

“Mick Mulvaney will not resign from the Office of Management and Budget but will spend all of his time devoted to his role as the acting chief of staff for the president. Russ Vought will handle day-to-day operations and run OMB,” she said.

Soon after the announcement, a video emerged in which Mr. Mulvaney called Mr. Trump a “terrible human being.”

The Daily Beast uncovered the video footage of Mr. Mulvaney making the remarks when running for re-election in 2016.

“Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump, but I’m doing so as enthusiastically as I can, given the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad,” said Mr. Mulvaney.

He made a similar comment on Twitter that was deleted when he took the OMB job, according to The New York Times.

Mr. Mulvaney has been doing double duty for the past year as chief of the Office of Management and Budget, which is the nerve center of the administration, and as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The CFBP got a new permanent director last week, so Mr. Mulvaney is free of those duties.

Mr. Mulvaney called the new assignment “a tremendous honor.”

“I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!” Mr. Mulvaney tweeted.

As OMB director, Mr. Mulvaney was a mostly behind-the-scenes advocate for the president’s policies, overseeing the push to limit government regulations and advancing Mr. Trump’s spending priorities.

He has been the president’s utility player, rumored to be in line for a number of high-level administration jobs.

His experience on Capitol Hill as a congressman could prove valuable next year dealing with the new House Democratic majority.

Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, which battled Mr. Mulvaney’s decisions at the CFPB, said Mr. Trump was inviting trouble.

“If Trump was looking to bring more scandal into the White House, this last minute, sixth-string pick was the right choice,” he said.

Alex Swoyer and Andrew Blake contributed to this report.