Slow leak of Rus­sia news flood­ing White House

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

As Air Force One flew home from Europe, news was set to break about a meet­ing that Don­ald Trump’s el­dest son had with a Krem­lin-con­nected lawyer, promis­ing yet an­other round of un­wel­come head­lines about the pres­i­dent and Rus­sia. And that hap­pened twice within a week. The day-af­ter-day drip-drip-drip of rev­e­la­tions over the past week about Don­ald Trump Jr’s con­tact with the Rus­sian lawyer in 2016 un­der­scores the White House’s in­abil­ity to shake off the Rus­sia story and close the book on a nar­ra­tive that casts a shadow over Trump’s pres­i­dency.

No mat­ter how pres­i­den­tial Trump may have looked on his back-to-back trips to Europe in re­cent days, the per­sis­tent ques­tions about con­nec­tions be­tween Trump’s team and Rus­sia pre­vent him from sa­vor­ing a pub­lic re­la­tions vic­tory and build­ing mo­men­tum for his stalled leg­isla­tive agenda. “Omis­sions are as harm­ful as con­tra­dic­tions be­cause it seems like you’re hid­ing some­thing,” Ari Fleis­cher, for­mer press sec­re­tary to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush, said of the Trump team’s strat­egy. “From a com­mu­ni­ca­tions stand­point, it’s un­for­give­able.”

In­deed, Trump Jr’s ac­count of his Trump Tower meet­ing has seem­ingly changed on an al­most daily ba­sis. At first, the meet­ing was said to be about a Rus­sian adop­tion pro­gram. Then, it was to hear in­for­ma­tion about cam­paign ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton. Fi­nally, Trump Jr was forced to re­lease emails - mere mo­ments be­fore The New York Times planned to do so - that re­vealed he had told an as­so­ciate that he would “love” Rus­sia’s help in ob­tain­ing neg­a­tive de­tails about the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee.

Even the num­ber of peo­ple who at­tended the meet­ing has changed. On Fri­day, a prom­i­nent Rus­sian-Amer­i­can lob­by­ist told AP that he, too, had been part of the dis­cus­sion. Each rev­e­la­tion, no mat­ter how small, has been seized upon by Democrats and dis­sected in de­tail on ca­ble news. The in­ves­ti­ga­tions have thrown the White House off bal­ance, leav­ing some of­fi­cials on edge about whether there are more dis­clo­sures to come.

Probes to linger

On Satur­day, the White House an­nounced that Trump had hired Wash­ing­ton at­tor­ney Ty Cobb to serve as his spe­cial coun­sel to han­dle the White House’s re­sponse to the Rus­sia probes. The move re­flects the pres­i­dent’s grow­ing ac­cep­tance that the Rus­sia probes will linger over his ten­ure for months or even years. Trump Jr and Jared Kush­ner - the pres­i­dent’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser also at­tended the June 2016 meet­ing - have retained at­tor­neys sep­a­rate from those hired by the pres­i­dent.

The Trump cam­paign paid the law firm of Alan Futer­fas, who is rep­re­sent­ing Don­ald Trump Jr, $50,000 last month, ac­cord­ing to a cam­paign fi­nance re­port filed Satur­day. The pay­ment was made nearly two weeks be­fore news re­ports about the younger Trump’s Rus­sia meet­ing. The new fi­nance fil­ing also shows the cam­paign paid al­most $90,000 to the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion - it’s led by the Trump sons - for le­gal con­sult­ing.

The firestorm over Trump Jr’s emails has been a frus­trat­ing dis­trac­tion dur­ing a stretch in which some White House ad­vis­ers be­lieved they were find­ing their foot­ing. Trump’s al­lies also were heart­ened by his trips to Europe, be­liev­ing that his speech salut­ing na­tional pride in Poland was a high point of his pres­i­dency and that he ap­peared states­man-like dur­ing a whirl­wind visit to Paris. But be­hind the scenes, a group of Trump aides gath­ered in a cabin on the pres­i­den­tial air­craft fly­ing home from Ger­many last week­end to be­gin pre­par­ing for the ini­tial fall­out from Trump Jr’s 2016 meet­ing.

And then just six days later, as Air Force One was re­turn­ing from France, more news was break­ing about Trump Jr’s shift­ing ac­count of the meet­ing, again launch­ing a bad news cy­cle and strain­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of the pres­i­dent’s de­fense team. For some, the steady drum­beat of Rus­sia rev­e­la­tions echoes how the Water­gate story emerged in one Wash­ing­ton Post story af­ter an­other. “I think the ‘drip-drip-drip’ is a per­fect anal­ogy, for that’s ex­actly what peo­ple said about Water­gate and Pres­i­dent Nixon’s Oval Of­fice tapes,” said Luke Nichter, a his­to­rian who has writ­ten sev­eral books on the for­mer pres­i­dent. “They were re­leased piece­meal and ev­ery re­lease was dam­ag­ing.”

Even if the on­go­ing Rus­sia ques­tions don’t end in le­gal con­se­quences for Trump, they can still in­flict se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal dam­age if al­lowed to need­lessly drag out. “I don’t know that there’s any­one pow­er­ful enough on the team to mar­shal this and get all the facts out now,” Fleis­cher said. — AP

In this July 14, 2017 photo, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and First Lady Me­la­nia Trump ar­rive on Air Force One at Newark Lib­erty In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Newark, New Jersey as they re­turn from France. — AP

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