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White House staffers view post-Hope Hicks era with trepidation

The reign of Hope Hicks, the unflappable White House communications director and the right side of President Trump's brain, comes to an end this week, leaving a communications team bitterly divided and an impetuous president increasingly isolated. 

The enigmatic aide-de-camp who has earned the ear and trust of Mr. Trump -- and equally as important, his family -- bridged the gulf between the president and the rest of his political staffers, many of whom he has consistently viewed with skepticism throughout his presidency.

And for a president who spends much of his time fuming at cable television or at one staffer or another, from his various chiefs of staff to his national security advisers, Hicks has stood apart in that "he genuinely likes and respects her," a source close to the president said. 

Staffers are approaching the post-Hicks era with trepidation, unsure what to expect in what they describe as a lawless White House featuring a president who thrives on chaos and resents authority, process and order. Hicks even used her standing to shield others from the wrath of Mr. Trump's explosive outbursts, sources inside the White House say.

"She's the glue to the entire place," a White House source said. "She helps keep the White House from fracturing. I don't think people realize what's about to happen once she leaves." 

Ghosts of communications directors past don't bode well for the future communications director. Sean Spicer served as acting communications director twice, followed by Michael Dubke's short-lived stint. And then there was Anthony Scaramucci's history making, expletive-laced, 10-day spell in the position. 

Which is why even in the toxic workplace that is the White House, the backbiting surrounding the heat to fill Hicks' shoes has taken staffers aback. 

"Woof! This is insane," one White House staffer texted with a link to a Washington Examiner piece where unnamed sources slammed Tony Sayegh, a Treasury Department spokesman, who is in the running to replace Hicks. One of the accusations that sources called particularly cruel was that Sayegh manipulated and bullied staffers, particularly female staffers.

"Whoever attempted to plant that lie should feel ashamed. It's just an icky thing to do, particularly to someone as nice as Tony," a female Treasury source told CBS News. 

"This ridiculous hit job on Tony Sayegh was obviously planted by someone competing for the job. This piece is 99% fake news," Arthur Schwartz, a publicist with ties to Trump's White House, tweeted. 

Another contender for the job, endorsed by chief of staff John Kelly, is director of strategic communications Mercedes "Mercy" Schlapp. Schlapp, viewed suspiciously as a traditionalist by original Trump campaign hands who've managed to survive the White House grind, raised eyebrows after a CNN article in February painted her as Hicks' "pinch hitter" during the messy fallout after allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter, Hicks' then-boyfriend, came out. 

The tension between Hicks and Schlapp is apparent to staff, a White House official said. According to the official, the president is aware of Hicks' displeasure with Schlapp and what was perceived as her undermining of Hicks during a difficult period in order to elevate herself in the White House hierarchy.

But Hicks, in an effort to quell some of the ongoing drama, has not explicitly weighed in on who she thinks should replace her, White House officials added.    

In the meantime, Kellyanne Conway is expected to serve as interim communications director, according to sources in and out of the White House.

As loyalists have thinned out since Mr. Trump assumed office, the president praised Conway last week, profusely complimenting her during a White House millennial panel. 

"Has anybody ever heard of Kellyanne?" the president told the crowd. "She's become -- I told Ivanka this morning, you can take Kellyanne and put her right into the heart of the battle to somebody who the level of hatred back there is so incredible. Seven in the morning, the cameras are on, the lights are on, and she's there, and she'll just take them on. You know, great courage. Really great courage."

Conway has said previously that she turned down the job of communications director. But with the divide in the communications shop so rancorously entrenched, Conway's name has surfaced as someone who makes the most sense among existing staff. 

"There's a lot of day-to-day work and paper pushing that goes into the job and I don't know if that's interesting to Kellyanne," a former White House staffer said. "But she certainly is, out of all the options, probably the best replacement for Hope because she does have that relationship with the president that is similar." 

But the former White House official also points out that all of the jockeying and backbiting for the position seems to be missing the point. 

"The job is already filled," the former White House official added. "It's filled by the president. And people who want to go to the mattresses for that position have to be real gluttons for punishment."