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Trump communications director Bill Shine resigns, US Air Force Secretary Wilson to resign

  • Published at 12:36 am March 9th, 2019
White House Communications Director Bill Shine
White House Communications Director Bill Shine at the White House in Washington, US, December 21, 2018 Reuters

Shine, a former Fox News executive, resigned on Thursday and will serve as a senior campaign adviser ahead of the 2020 presidential election, whereas, Heather Wilson, who was considered a top candidate to become the next secretary of defence, said she has decided to resign and return to academia

White House Communications Director Bill Shine has resigned as Donald Trump's top White House communications aide and will move to work on the US president's 2020 re-election campaign, the White House said on Friday.

Shine, a former Fox News executive, resigned on Thursday and will serve as a senior campaign adviser ahead of the 2020 presidential election, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

A source close to Trump, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the president had lost confidence in Shine and was relying heavily on Sanders to run the communications operation.

Shine is the latest in a string of communications directors who have had short tenures in the Trump White House, where the president in many ways serves as his own communications chief.

Trump said in a statement released by the White House that Shine had done an "outstanding" job.

"We will miss him in the White House, but look forward to working together on the 2020 Presidential Campaign, where he will be totally involved," Trump said.

Shine said he was looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“Serving President Trump and this country has been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. To be a small part of all this President has done for the American people has truly been an honour," he said in a statement.

Shine did not respond to an email requesting further comment.

The former Fox News executive was named to the top White House communications job in July, 14 months after he left the network amid charges he failed take effective steps to deal with sexual misconduct at the channel. Although not accused of harassment, Shine was named in a number of lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and accused of not doing more to prevent it.

Trump named Shine to be assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for communications, a job that had been vacant since Hope Hicks, the president's campaign confidante, left in February 2018.

The New Yorker magazine earlier this week reported on "seamlessly" close ties between Trump and Fox News, citing an expert on presidential studies who said the television network founded by Rupert Murdoch is the "closest we've come to having state TV."

The article went on to describe the access and interviews that members of the White House have granted exclusively to Fox News.

US Air Force secretary to resign

US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who was considered a top candidate to become the next secretary of defence, said on Friday she has decided to resign and return to academia, leaving another vacant post at the top level of the Pentagon.

Wilson confirmed the news, first reported by Reuters, in a tweet, saying she had informed President Donald Trump on Friday of her plans to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso. She plans to step down on May 31.

The resignation leaves another senior Pentagon job open and follows the December departure of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit over policy differences with Trump and had picked Wilson for the post.

US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson (R) is seen standing over a US fighter aircraft at an undisclosed location in the Middle East in this August 17, 2017 photograph | Reuters

Like Mattis, Wilson was a staunch advocate of alliances like Nato and firmly supported Mattis' push to refocus the Pentagon on higher-end competition with China and Russia after more than a decade-and-a-half of counterinsurgency campaigns.

"It has been a privilege to serve alongside our Airmen over the past two years and I am proud of the progress that we have made in restoring our nation's defenses," Wilson, 58, said in her resignation letter to Trump.

A former Republican lawmaker who was close to Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, Wilson would have been the first woman to take the Pentagon's top job, if she had been nominated.

Mattis' deputy, Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, is now performing the role in an acting capacity in what is widely seen as an audition for the position. Wilson's resignation could add to speculation that Shanahan may remain in the post of defence secretary.

Other top Pentagon positions, including the deputy defence secretary, are either being filled provisionally or are vacant.

"Everyone she has talked to wants her to stay, but she thinks the time is right to take on this new challenge," a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Wilson informed Pence of her decision earlier in the week and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein on Thursday, the official said.

The University of Texas Board of Regents still has to approve Wilson's selection to head its El Paso campus, but she is the sole finalist.

Space Force

It is unclear who might succeed Wilson and inherit steep challenges facing the Air Force, which include the creation of Trump's "Space Force," a new branch of military service that will carve out some responsibilities current done by the Air Force. The Air Force is also reeling from a fresh scandal involving sexual assault.

Wilson was the first Air Force Academy graduate to ever take the highest position in her service, and counted a robust resume that included a decade as a Republican lawmaker in Congress. She also served on the National Security Council staff during the George HW Bush administration, and as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

After joining the Pentagon, Wilson visited Iraq and Afghanistan and came away concerned about the wear and tear on an Air Force that she thought was too small, especially as the Pentagon shifted its focus to competition with Russia and China.

Last fall, she predicted the Air Force would need to grow sharply over the next decade or so, boosting the number of operational squadrons by nearly a quarter to stay ahead of Moscow and Beijing.

She told reporters at the time that the preliminary analysis drew partly from classified intelligence about possible future threats, showing that Air Force, at its current size, would be unable to preserve the United States' edge.

Wilson estimated the Air Force would need about more 40,000 personnel as part of the plan to have a total of 386 operational squadrons, compared with 312 today. The US Air Force had 401 squadrons in 1987, at the peak of the Cold War.

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