TRUMP IN­CREAS­INGLY DIS­TRUST­FUL OF STAFF

White House reel­ing from blow­back over FBI direc­tor’s fir­ing

New Straits Times - - World -

AF­TER four months in of­fice, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has be­come dis­trust­ful of some of his White House staff. He is heav­ily re­liant on a hand­ful of fam­ily mem­bers and long­time aides, and fu­ri­ous that the White House’s at­tempts to quell the firestorm over the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (FBI) and con­gres­sional Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions only seem to add more fuel.

Trump’s frus­tra­tions came to a head this week with the fir­ing of FBI direc­tor James Comey, who was over­see­ing the probe into his cam­paign’s pos­si­ble ties to Rus­sia’s elec­tion med­dling. Fear­ful that his own team would leak the de­ci­sion, Trump kept key staff in the dark as he pon­dered the dra­matic move.

Chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non learnt on tele­vi­sion. The com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff charged with ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion to the Amer­i­can peo­ple had an hour’s no­tice.

When the White House’s de­fence of the move failed to meet his ever-chang­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, Trump tried to take over him­self. But he wound up cre­at­ing new headaches for the White House, in­clud­ing with an ap­par­ent threat to Comey.

“James Comey bet­ter hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations be­fore he starts leak­ing to the press!” Trump wrote on Twit­ter on Fri­day.

Peo­ple close to the pres­i­dent said his re­liance on a small cadre of ad­vis­ers as he mulled fir­ing Comey re­flected his broader dis­trust of many of his own staffers. He leans heav­ily on daugh­ter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kusher, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted cam­paign spokes­woman and Keith Schiller, his long­time body­guard.

Trump con­fi­dants said Ban­non had been marginalised on ma­jor de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing Comey’s fir­ing, af­ter clash­ing with Kush­ner. And while Trump praised chief of staff Reince Priebus af­ter the House passed a health­care bill last week, as­so­ci­ates said the pres­i­dent had con­tin­ued to raise oc­ca­sional ques­tions about Priebus’ leadership in the West Wing.

Af­ter he de­cided to fire Comey, he was told by aides that Democrats would likely re­act pos­i­tively to the news given the role many be­lieve Comey played in Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­feat last year. When the op­po­site oc­curred, Trump grew in­censed — both at Democrats and his own com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff for not quickly lin­ing up more Repub­li­cans to de­fend him on tele­vi­sion.

Much of Trump’s ire has been fo­cused on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions team, all of whom were caught off guard by Comey’s ouster.

He in­creas­ingly sees him­self as the White House’s only ef­fec­tive spokesper­son, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who have spo­ken with him. By week’s end, he was mus­ing about cut­ting back on the White House’s tele­vised press brief­ings.

White House of­fi­cials had hoped last week’s House vote would give the pres­i­dent a much­needed burst of mo­men­tum and in­fuse new en­ergy into ef­forts to fully over­haul the Oba­macare health law and pass a mas­sive tax re­form pack­age.

Aides were also ea­ger for Trump’s first for­eign trip, a high­stakes blitz through the Mid­dle East and Europe.

But the blow­back from Comey’s fir­ing left the White House reel­ing once again.

Trump’s vis­i­ble anger and er­ratic tweets prompted a re­porter to ask Spicer on Fri­day whether the pres­i­dent was “out of con­trol”.

“That’s, frankly, of­fen­sive,” Spicer said. AP

EPA PIC

Pro­test­ers ral­ly­ing against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sack­ing of FBI direc­tor James Comey at the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

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