Grim mood at White House as cri­sis mounts

New Straits Times - - World -

WASH­ING­TON: Less than four months ago, a keen set of young up-and-com­ers strode into the White House in their best high heels and power ties, burst­ing with op­ti­mism and pride in serv­ing their coun­try.

Now, their stint in the White House — the sup­posed apogee of their lives, some­thing to brag about some­day to the grand­kids — has be­gun to look more like it would be an al­ba­tross tied around their necks.

United States pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may have left be­hind his do­mes­tic woes as he jet­ted off on Fri­day on his first for­eign trip, but he also left be­hind a White House staff that is in­creas­ingly de­mor­alised and over­whelmed.

On Wed­nes­day, in­side the of­fices of the White House’s West Wing, the news struck like a thun­der­clap — a spe­cial coun­sel had been ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate ties be­tween Trump, his in­ner cir­cle and the Krem­lin.

As a tele­vi­sion on the wall blared the news over and over, young aides to the pres­i­dent sat stone-faced and mute. “Col­lu­sion”, “grand jury”, “im­peach­ment” — the pun­dits were dron­ing on, but those words stood out.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff scut­tled from meet­ings to their desks and back, in the vain hunt for a way to spin news that could de­fine the rest of Trump’s pres­i­dency.

For months, Trump’s staff have lived with ex­haus­tion, back­stab­bing and a seem­ingly per­pet­ual drum­beat of cri­sis. This lat­est ex­pe­ri­ence was played out in full view of the world, and for the his­tory books.

A White House pho­tog­ra­pher stalked the hall­ways snap­ping pic­tures of a his­toric, if har­row­ing, mo­ment for pos­ter­ity, be­fore be­ing shooed away.

Trump’s man­age­ment skills have not trans­lated into a fine­ly­tuned White House.

Back­bit­ing and al­most daily ru­mours about mass fir­ings are the norm. Staff pri­vately com­plain about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­com­pe­tence and un­der­staffing.

Aides say they of­ten won­dered whether they will be al­lowed to re­turn to work the next day — half ex­pect­ing heart­break, half want­ing de­liv­er­ance.

For a few Trump aides, like Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer, the mael­strom has played out in a bru­tally pub­lic way. Spicer had to suf­fer the hu­mil­i­a­tion of his col­leagues brief­ing the press that he will soon be a goner.

One would-be suc­ces­sor, Kim­berly Guil­foyle — a former lawyer, model and now Fox News pre­sen­ter — even said re­cently she was talk­ing to the White House about tak­ing over Spicer’s job.

“I think I have a good re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent,” Guil­foyle told The Mer­cury News.

“I en­joy a straight­for­ward and au­then­tic, gen­uine re­la­tion­ship, one that’s built on trust and in­tegrity, and that’s im­per­a­tive for suc­cess in that po­si­tion.”

Spicer — like key aides Jared Kush­ner, Ivanka Trump and Steve Ban­non — on Fri­day boarded Air Force One for a pres­sure­cooker first for­eign visit to Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael, the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, the Vat­i­can, Brus­sels and Si­cily.

For the staff happy to be left be­hind at the White House, the next week may of­fer some much needed respite. AFP

AP PIC

A duck and her brood walk­ing to­wards the West Wing of the White House on Fri­day. Aides say they of­ten won­dered if they will re­turn to work the next day, half ex­pect­ing heart­break, half want­ing de­liv­er­ance.

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