Speculation is mounting over who will be US President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff after the man believed to be the top candidate said he too was leaving the government.
Nick Ayers, chief of staff to the vice-president, will reportedly return to his home state of Georgia.
The 36-year-old was seen as Mr Trump’s main choice to replace Gen John Kelly, who will depart by the year’s end.
But the president appeared to dismiss the idea he had wanted Mr Ayers.
“I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff,” he said in a tweet.
“Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!”
Who’s on the list?
Exactly who is on the list of interviewees is a source of debate among US media outlets.
According to the Washington Post, Republican congressman Mark Meadows, a leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, and Mick Mulvaney, the White House’s budget director, are in contention.
CNN added Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to the list of possibilities, although this was played down by a source close to the former investment banker.
But exactly who will be brave enough to take on the role remains to be seen.
Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers: How the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency, told Politico: “You really do have to wonder why anybody would want to be Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff given that so far it’s been mission impossible.”
Why is Kelly leaving?
Earlier this year, Gen Kelly, who took over from Reince Priebus in July 2017, was forced to deny he had called Mr Trump an “idiot” after the quote was included in a book about Mr Trump by the veteran investigative journalist Bob Woodward.
Gen Kelly is said to have used the description repeatedly and also allegedly said that “it’s pointless to try to convince him of anything”.
Mr Ayers name emerged as a possible replacement last month as reports of Gen Kelly’s deteriorating relationship with the president began to circulate.
But on Sunday, he made it clear he would not be taking on the role in a tweet saying he was resigning from the White House.
According to Politico, Mr Ayers’ friends have suggested he wants to run for public office in his home state, Georgia.
However, CNN said two sources said First Lady Melania Trump and “some other senior staff” had intervened to block Mr Ayers.