Sean Spicer never made it easy for himself. He was an embattled figure from Day One of his tenure as White House press secretary, coming out swinging in a bizarre first interaction with reporters and the larger news media. He lambasted reporters for accurately reporting the crowd size at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and thundered through a needlessly hostile first press briefing. With crowd pictures blown up on screens behind him, Spicer falsely claimed Trump’s inauguration had “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration.” Then he abruptly stormed off.
Spicer followed up that performance by starting his second presser, two days later, with an awkward joke about his poor relationship with the press. He went on to enumerate the many achievements of the president’s first full day in office. Despite the calmer, saner second try, Spicer avoided giving straight answers and dodged the tough questions.
Spicer’s theatrics that inaugural weekend were an appetizer for what was to come — a rocky tenure filled with a seemingly endless series of self-inflicted crises and gaffes that provided a stream of comedic fodder for late-night TV, and which set him up for a diminished public role. Following a hiatus for reserve duty, Spicer held only six on-camera briefings in six weeks.
Spicer survived — or simply ignored — countless controversies, tirelessly defending the president, if sometimes inarticulately, during the course of Trump’s embattled first six months. But the red line for Spicer apparently was the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci, the Wall Street financier and frequent surrogate for Trump on cable TV, as communications director.
Here are some of highlights (or lowlights) from his tumultuous tenure as Trump’s press secretary:
He tweeted out what appeared to be his own password — twice
Within the first week of Trump’s presidency, Spicer tweeted — not once, but twice — a mysterious series of letters and numbers that looked a whole lot like passwords to something.
He said even Hitler didn’t gas his own people
Spicer during an April 12 press briefing compared Syrian President Bashar Assad to Hitler. But he didn’t stop there; he somehow implied Hitler was the lesser of two evils, saying that the genocidal leader didn’t use gas to kill people during the Holocaust: “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”
The “travel ban”
Spicer on Jan. 31 contradicted the president on his controversial executive order, claiming that the travel ban wasn’t a travel ban. But Trump himself had used the term “travel ban” repeatedly in reference to the executive order that barred travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. “It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban. It’s a vetting system to keep America safe,” Spicer said. The comments from the press secretary shed light on the internal confusion in the White House regarding the president’s executive order.
That Apple Store incident
On March 11, Spicer told a woman of Indian descent who confronted him in an Apple store that she was lucky to be “allowed” in America. The woman had asked Spicer, “How does it feel to work for a fascist?” To which he replied, “such a great country that allows you to be here.”
The woman who confronted him interpreted Spicer’s comment as a threat.
The 10-minute monologue on press “bias”
Spicer launched into a fiery 10-minute monologue on March 16 attacking the reporters in press briefing for what he saw as biased coverage. The monologue came as Spicer attempted to defend Trump’s erroneous claims that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower during the campaign. Trump’s administration offered a bunch of explanations for Trump’s wiretapping allegations, none of which appeared to square with reality.
Manafort’s “limited role” as campaign manager
On March 20, Spicer claimed that Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, who oversaw Trump’s campaign for five months, “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” Manafort is now at the center of the FBI’s ongoing probe into Russia’s 2016 election meddling and the Kremlin’s possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Spicer randomly scapegoated a couple of Maryland teens — who were innocent
Spicer pointed to a Maryland rape case as evidence for the need to crack down on immigration. The details of that case were pretty murky at the time, but they involved an undocumented immigrant being accused of raping one of his high school classmates. The charges against the high schooler were later dropped.
He critiqued a reporter’s body language
He occasionally attacked the body language of female reporters who questioned him during press briefings. In one notable dust-up, on March 28, he accused April Ryan of reporting fake news and asked her to stop shaking her head.
“Among the bushes”
Spicer mysteriously disappeared from the press secretary’s podium following Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey on May 9. The official reason was that he was leaving for Navy Reserve duty, leaving his deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to handle the fallout. But he was seen at the White House, apparently hiding from reporters “among” some bushes, presumably to avoid questions about Comey’s firing.
With Spicer gone, Melissa McCarthy will have to look for new fodder for her sketch comedy. She drew praise for her rendition of Spicer on “Saturday Night Live,” a role she has reprised several times, to the dismay of Trump and the delight of comedy fans. SNL’s average ratings were a full 20 percent higher this season than last year’s. This season’s finale earned the show its highest ratings since 2011.