Hope Hicks Resigns as White House Communications Director: A Big Crisis or Just One More PR Problem for the Trump Administration?

You Need a Flow Chart to Track the White House Crises and Staff Turnover

Andrew Blum, Principal, AJB Communications

To paraphrase Nicholas Cage’s character in “Con Air,” if the fourth White House Communications Director had resigned during any other administration, that might stand out as unusual.

Cage, of course, was talking about a Corvette attached to a flying plane in “Con Air,” saying, “On any other day that might seem strange.”

In the instance of Hope Hicks announcing her resignation as the fourth person in the position since Donald Trump became president, it would have been a bigger crisis if not for all the other PR and political issues floating around Trump in a 48-hour period. The timing was suspect, coming a day after her Congressional testimony as part of the Russia investigation.

According to Brian Stelter’s CNN Reliable Sources e-newsletter, CNN’s Chris Cillizza reported that the Hicks resignation while big news, there were 16 other things perhaps as big that happened or were reported on in the 48-hour period. Those included Special Counsel Robert Mueller looking into Trump’s financial dealings before he ran for president, Trump attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions again, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly fighting with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

So looking at the implications of the Hicks resignation, I would say it doesn’t have an immediate huge impact when viewed alone. But when you examine it in a larger context of the Mueller Russia probe, it may have a bigger impact as Hicks figures prominently in the investigation.

She reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee this past week that she committed “white lies” on behalf of the president. But she may have done more than that – she was involved in the Air Force One discussion on how to respond to the media about the infamous summer 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer where they discussed political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Media reports say that Hicks reportedly said emails about that meeting might not come out, prompting a former PR spokesman for Trump’s legal team to say obstruction of justice may have taken place during that conversation.

So, how does the White House spin the Hicks resignation and her PR baggage? I predict we’ll see more of the same from them.

The PR strategy of the White House and Trump has been to deny there was a Russian cyberattack and interference with the 2016 election and that there was no collusion with Russia by Trump or his campaign. Despite an indictment of 13 Russians by Mueller on charges they interfered in our election, Trump continues to call the probe a “witch hunt” and to blame President Obama and Hillary Clinton for not being tough enough on Russia.

Trump called Hicks a fine person, saying she has done a great job in the White House. Meanwhile, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has become just about unwatchable during her daily press briefings as she has continues to defend Trump in the Russia probe and deflect when discussing all the PR problems facing the chaotic administration.

At some point, a communications strategy on Hicks and related crises may well be useless except with the Trump base. As Mueller builds more and more of a case, the PR strategy may turn into much more of a legal strategy.

The other wild card here is the 2018 mid-term election. What impact will all of this have as the Democrats try to take back Congress? Do voters care about Hope Hicks and Russia in Iowa?


About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms