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Trump demotes campaign manager Brad Parscale

President Trump announced Wednesday that his current 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, will be replaced by political operative Bill Stepien. Parscale will stay on leading digital and data strategies for the campaign, and serve as a senior adviser. 

"I am pleased to announce that Bill Stepien has been promoted to the role of Trump Campaign Manager," Mr. Trump announced on Facebook. "Brad Parscale, who has been with me for a very long time and has led our tremendous digital and data strategies, will remain in that role, while being a Senior Advisor to the campaign. Both were heavily involved in our historic 2016 win, and I look forward to having a big and very important second win together."

Parscale's fall came slowly, but accelerated after Mr. Trump's Tulsa rally, when the campaign hyped that 1 million people had requested tickets for the event but in the end, only 6,200 showed up at the 19,000-seat BOK Center. Additionally, at least eight Trump campaign advance staffers and two Secret Service agents who worked in Tulsa ahead of the rally tested positive for the coronavirus. A top Tulsa health official said last week the rally "more than likely contributed" to a spike in coronavirus cases in the area. 

Mr. Trump's poll numbers have been in free fall in recent weeks. A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll had Mr. Trump struggling in Arizona and Texas — reliably Republican states that he won in 2016. The poll also had Mr. Trump down by 2 in Georgia and 6 in Florida. 

Parscale also drew Mr. Trump's wrath last year amid stories of sizable payments to his firms from the campaign and RNC combined with reports of Parscale's lavish style of living. Parscale holds at least one stake in Parscale Strategy, LLC, a vendor that has been paid eight figures by the Trump campaign, Republican National Committee and two joint fundraising committees linking the campaign and national party committee. Resentment grew around Parscale as longtime critics of the president's campaign manager — and the president himself — complained of how much he was profiting off the campaign.   

Parscale's rapport with Mr. Trump and tight relationship with the president's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner kept him afloat.     

According to sources close to the campaign, Wednesday's move underscores that Kushner could no longer protect Parscale nor defend Mr. Trump's sliding poll numbers and Parscale's arms-length conduct of daily campaign operations. 

"Make no mistake," one Trump reelection adviser said. "Jared was the campaign manager yesterday and Jared is the campaign manager today."

A source close to the campaign said Kushner is the one who informed Parscale of Mr. Trump's decision to remove him as campaign manager.

Parscale was a mostly unknown campaign operative in 2016. Along with Kushner, he ran the campaign's digital ad buying and data operation. By the end of the campaign, 100 people worked under him, and he'd brought in $240 million in small donations, 60 Minutes reported in 2018.   

He was named campaign manager in February 2018. Parscale became a regular, swaggering presence at campaign rallies, posing for selfies with supporters, schmoozing reporters and serving as a warm up act for Mr. Trump.

But Parscale had received criticism for spending too much time at his Fort Lauderdale home and not enough at the campaign's Arlington, Virginia, headquarters.

CBS News broke the story several weeks ago that Parscale did not vote in the 2016 election. Parscale claims he was working on the campaign at Trump Tower and had trouble obtaining an absentee ballot.  

Stepien will become Mr. Trump's fifth campaign manager, following Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Kellyanne Conway, and Parscale. He previously served as deputy campaign manager. 

Stepien has been working for Mr. Trump since January 2017, when he was hired as deputy assistant to the president and political director. He left his post as political director in December 2018 after the Republican midterm losses, although he was seen as a fall guy. Stepien exerted minimal influence on Mr. Trump's overall political direction leading up to the midterms but was wise enough to see the imperative of preserving the GOP Senate majority and the hard slog of saving the GOP-led House. 

Stepien has supporters within the Trump reelection campaign but is not regarded as a strong voice or a person who commands Mr. Trump's respect. 

Stepien served as Chris Christie's campaign manager for his 2009 run for New Jersey governor and again for his reelection bid in 2013. He also served as national field director for Rudy Giuliani's 2008 run for president and worked on John McCain's presidential campaign that same year. 

Christie fired Stepien in 2014 after thousands of pages of emails and texts were released related to "Bridgegate," the 2013 scandal involving the plan to close traffic lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, leading to the George Washington Bridge as political retaliation against the mayor for not supporting the governor's reelection campaign. Christie said at the time that he was disturbed by Stepien's "callous indifference" in some of the emails, according to CBS New York

Stepien was never charged in the scandal, but his protege and Christie's former chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, was convicted of fraud and conspiracy, along with another Christie appointee, Bill Baroni. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Kelly and Baroni's convictions earlier this year.

Former Republican operative David Wildstein testified in the 2016 trial that Stepien knew about the plan to close traffic lanes to create gridlock to punish the Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Christie. Another one of Christie's top political advisers, Mike DuHaime, testified that Stepien and Kelly knew about the plan ahead of a December 2013 news conference when Christie said no one in his administration had any knowledge of the scheme.

Wildstein also testified that Stepien helped formulate a strategy for Christie staffers to use the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operator of the George Washington Bridge, as a source of political favors to gain endorsements from Democrats. 

Stepien's attorney maintained his client did not engage in any wrongdoing.   

Arden Farhi, Major Garrett, Nicole Sganga and Caroline Linton contributed to this report. 

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