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Ignatieff's Inner Circle Shrinks As Two More Aides Depart

The exodus continues from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s inner circle.

Two more aides confirmed late Friday they’re leaving the leader’s office, a week after Ignatieff turfed his chief of staff, Ian Davey.

Mark Sakamoto and Alexis Levine, both directors of political operations, are returning to the private sector. Both insist they’re leaving voluntarily.

“I won’t be returning to Ottawa as my two-month old baby and lovely wife are in Toronto and I need to focus on them,” Sakamoto said in an email missive.

“Of course, I remain a staunch supporter of Mr. Ignatieff and wish him and the team the best.”

Sakamoto was inadvertently involved in controversy this week when he was interviewed by the CBC as he, his wife and their infant baby stood in line awaiting vaccination against H1N1 flu. He criticized the disorganized inoculation campaign without identifying himself as an aide to Ignatieff.

Sakamoto’s comments were broadcast on CBC’s The National but were pulled as soon as a producer recognized him as a Liberal strategist. Some Conservative bloggers nevertheless claimed the incident proved the public broadcaster’s Liberal bias.

Liberal insiders said the incident had no bearing on Sakamoto’s departure.

Levine said he’s returning to his law practice.

“It was a personal choice,” Levine said in an email message.

“I’m happy to have worked with an exceptional team and am looking forward to helping out in other ways going forward.”

The pair may be jumping before they’re pushed.

Peter Donolo, one-time communications director for former prime minister Jean Chretien, will be officially starting as Ignatieff’s new chief of staff in 10 days and insiders say he’s been given carte blanche to clean house.

Communications director Jill Fairbrother, Davey’s partner, and principal secretary Dan Brock are considered prime targets.

Ignatieff has been under enormous pressure to shake up his inner circle since early September, when he declared his intention to defeat the Harper government at the earliest opportunity.

Liberal fortunes and Ignatieff’s popularity have plunged since then, although they’ve shown signs of stabilizing in the past week.

Plagued by internecine squabbling that culminated last month in the angry departure of his Quebec lieutenant, Ignatieff has been forced to back off his threat to force an election.