As Rus­sia scan­dal touches his son, Trump pri­vately rages

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The snow­balling rev­e­la­tions about Don­ald Trump Jr.’s meet­ing with a Russian lawyer dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign have broad­sided the White House, dis­tract­ing from its agenda as aides grap­ple with a cri­sis in­volv­ing the pres­i­dent’s fam­ily. The pub­lic has not laid eyes on the pres­i­dent since his re­turn from Eu­rope Satur­day. But in pri­vate, Trump has raged against the lat­est Rus­sia de­vel­op­ment, with most of his ire di­rected at the me­dia, not his son, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who have spo­ken to him in re­cent days.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, Trump tweeted that his son was “open, trans­par­ent and in­no­cent,” again re­fer­ring to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as “the great­est Witch Hunt in po­lit­i­cal his­tory.” The pres­i­dent also ques­tioned the sources of the me­dia re­port­ing on the story, de­spite the fact that his son per­son­ally re­leased four pages of emails in which he com­mu­ni­cates with an as­so­ci­ate claim­ing to be ar­rang- ing a meet­ing with a Russian gov­ern­ment lawyer.

The bomb­shell rev­e­la­tion that Trump Jr. was ea­ger to ac­cept in­for­ma­tion from Moscow landed hard on weary White House aides. While staffers have grown ac­cus­tomed to a good news cy­cle be­ing over­shad­owed by the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Trump aides and out­side ad­vis­ers pri­vately ac­knowl­edged that this week’s de­vel­op­ments felt more se­ri­ous. In the emails, the in­ter­me­di­ary says the at­tor­ney has neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion about Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton that is part of the Russian gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to help Trump in the cam­paign. The then can­di­date’s son re­sponds: “I love it.”

This new set­back raises new ques­tions about whether the Trump cam­paign co­or­di­nated with Moscow dur­ing the elec­tion, a charge the pres­i­dent has de­nied for months. And it points those ques­tions more di­rectly at the in­ner cir­cle of Trump’s own fam­ily. As has been the pat­tern for Trump’s White House, the con­tro­versy has sparked a new round of re­crim­i­na­tions among the pres­i­dent’s team. Nearly a dozen White House of­fi­cials and out­side ad­vis­ers spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity in or­der to dis­cuss the mood in the West Wing.

Rus­sia con­tro­versy, a dis­trac­tion?

The pres­i­dent, in con­ver­sa­tions with con­fi­dants, has ques­tioned the qual­ity of ad­vice he has re­ceived from se­nior staff, in­clud­ing chief of staff Reince Priebus. How­ever, Priebus has been a fre­quent tar­get of crit­i­cism for months and even those tak­ing aim at him now said it did not ap­pear as though a shakeup was on the hori­zon. There has also been a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion within the West Wing as to how to han­dle the cri­sis, with some aides fa­vor­ing more trans­parency than oth­ers. Some of the un­hap­pi­ness cen­ters on Trump’s le­gal team, which is led by New York at­tor­ney Marc Ka­sowitz.

An un­usual state­ment Satur­day night from the le­gal team’s spokesman Mark Co­rallo ap­peared to claim Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and then­cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort were duped into meet­ing with the Russian lawyer, and was viewed as par­tic­u­larly un­help­ful by se­nior White House of­fi­cials. The pres­i­dent, again on Twit­ter, pushed back Wed­nes­day on the nar­ra­tive of a dys­func­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion, writ­ing that the White House “is func­tion­ing per­fectly” and claim­ing that “I have very lit­tle time for watch­ing T.V.” At least 10 of the pres­i­dent’s tweets since Mon­day have been about TV shows or links to videos from the Fox News Chan­nel.

The rev­e­la­tions come at a piv­otal mo­ment for Trump and the Repub­li­can Party, as GOP se­na­tors race to fin­ish work on a health care over­haul that has di­vided the party. Trump has largely stayed on the side­lines of the pol­icy ne­go­ti­a­tions on the mea­sure, but has still pub­licly pressed GOP se­na­tors to wrap up work on leg­is­la­tion this sum­mer and ful­fill one of the party’s cen­tral prom­ises to vot­ers. On Capi­tol Hill, some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers cast the Rus­sia con­tro­versy as a dis­trac­tion from the health care de­bate.

“We ought to be dis­ci­plined and not be dis­tracted by things that may be le­git­i­mate but not right now in our lane,” said Sen. Thom Til­lis of North Carolina. The mat­ter has also dis­tracted from a brief stretch in which some White House ad­vis­ers be­lieved they were find­ing their foot­ing. Trump aides, who view clashes with the me­dia as cen­tral to the pres­i­dent’s agenda, were em­bold­ened when three jour­nal­ists from CNN re­signed after the net­work with­drew a story about a Trump ally.

Trump’s al­lies were also heart­ened by his trip to Eu­rope last week, feel­ing that his speech salut­ing na­tional pride in Poland was a high point of his pres­i­dency and be­liev­ing that he held his own dur­ing meet­ings with for­eign lead­ers at an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit in Ger­many. But the af­ter­glow of Trump’s trip quickly van­ished, re­placed once again with ques­tions about the swirling fed­eral and con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s elec­tion med­dling.

And Trump al­lies took no­tice Tues­day when Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence dis­tanced him­self from the rev­e­la­tion by the pres­i­dent’s son. In a state­ment, Pence spokesman Marc Lot­ter said the vice pres­i­dent “was not aware of the meet­ing,” adding Pence was “not fo­cused on sto­ries about the cam­paign espe­cially those per­tain­ing to the time be­fore he joined the cam­paign.” Pence was named Trump’s run­ning mate in the mid­dle of July 2016, sev­eral weeks after the meet­ing in­volv­ing the pres­i­dent’s son. — AP

NEW YORK: In this photo, Don­ald Trump Jr. is in­ter­viewed by host Sean Han­nity on the Fox News Chan­nel tele­vi­sion pro­gram, in New York. — AP

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