As President Trump finds himself enmeshed in yet another media firestorm, fingers are pointing at the communications staffers who represent him to the press and the public.
How the White House deals with the fallout of a report that Trump shared sensitive intelligence with the Russians during an Oval Office meeting, a story that will dominate headlines for at least the next few days, will be the latest test for an administration growing accustomed to public relations nightmares.
Trump has publicly floated replacing the daily press briefings with his own biweekly press conferences, augmented with more frequent written statements in response to questions. He has also repeatedly given his White House lower grades for communication and messaging than governing.
While this has fueled speculation that White House press secretary Sean Spicer or communications director Mike Dubke may be on the chopping block, plenty of informed observers believe this administration's messaging woes start at the top.
"Trump is frustrated that he has not been able to rewrite the rules of how presidents interact with the press the same way he has been successful in rewriting the rules in so many other things," said a Republican operative who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the president.
"He sees it as a process that needs to be changed, but it just doesn't work that way. He's got to change the way he operates or it's going to be a long four years for him."
This operative described the current Trump press team as "good people" who are "forced into positions they should not be forced into."
Trump has also spoken highly of his spokesmen personally and argued that they are treated unfairly by the media.
"Working at the White House press office is tough under the best of circumstances," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "These are not the best of circumstances."
"The problem is less the communicators than what is being communicated," David Axelrod, a onetime top adviser to former President Obama, tweeted Friday in response to reports that Trump planned to expand his communications team by bringing in producers from Fox News. "The crazy tweets. The lurches in direction. The obvious lies."
When the latest Russia-related story broke Monday evening, it was a trio of top Trump officials — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell — who took the lead in pushing back, not the press office.
McMaster delivered a briefing to reporters outside the White House Monday night, although it differed little from his written statement and he took no questions afterward.
But for many, it was the firing of former FBI Director James Comey that brought the White House messaging crisis into focus. Trump publicly contradicted the rationale for Comey's firing that had been carefully laid out by both the Justice Department and the press team.
"The Comey firing was a big old cherry on top of the whole communications mess," said a GOP operative. "Forcing Spicer or [deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders to change their stories four or five times is not an effective messaging strategy. Telling the truth should not be a subjective thing."
"It makes it hard for people like me to defend them," the operative said of the administration. It also erodes confidence in what it said at the press briefings if the president does not buy into the message. "Spicer may not want to talk to Trump [before the briefing] because he doesn't want to know the answer."
"[S]hould reporters and the country essentially wait for a pronouncement from the president before believing that which is stated on his behalf by the White House communications staff?" CBS News' Major Garrett asked at Thursday's briefing.
"You guys want to get lost in the process," Sanders shot back.
At the same time, Trump comes to the presidency with ample experience in television, marketing and dealing with the press.
"He's a very talented communicator in his own way," said Conant, who served as communications director for Rubio's rival campaign. "I grew to really respect Trump's communication skills. He was constantly able to frame the debate, control the information flow and overwhelm his opponents."
"Handling communications for an unconventional figure could be a gift for a staffer," said Kyle Plotkin, who was communications director for Bobby Jindal's presidential campaign. "Most politicians use the same old tired talking points and wonder why they never get press coverage."
"You have to take the good with the bad, but there is major upside for a communications staffer in terms of spreading your message if you work for a person who doesn't sound like everyone else," Plotkin added. "Of course it's hard to work in an unconventional environment and for an unconventional person, but the job isn't supposed to be easy."
Trump's success at generating publicity before he entered politics plus his ability to defy the conventional wisdom and defeat professional political communicators during the campaign has likely made him reluctant to take Washington insiders' advice now.
Even the most meticulous plan for explaining the administration's actions and future plans can be undone by a single Trump tweet, often improvised by the president himself.
"In a more normal White House, there is an allegiance to the process," Conant said. "Decisions don't get made without going through a robust internal process… When the process breaks down, the communications are going to break down."
Trump also has an unusually acrimonious relationship with the media, even for a Republican. While his base likes the fact that he fights back against a Washington press corps they agree is hostile to their values, the president and his party also need to appeal to voters who get their information from traditional media outlets.
"George W. Bush knew the press was against him," said Republican strategist Jim Dornan. "But he didn't go out and beat the living daylights out of them. He rarely even showed outward hostility towards them most of the time."
Trump's spokesmen, such as Spicer and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, have also been subject to vicious portrayals on late-night comedy shows.
"I think the scrutiny is unequivocally different," Spicer told the Washington Examiner's Sarah Westwood while discussing the White House press secretary role in an interview last month. "I mean you can go on TV and be a spokesman for a long time and suddenly every little word and article of clothing, pin, salad in your teeth...it's just different."
That scrutiny is likely to only grow more intense, as the president mulls changes to a job that is starting look like an impossible task.