Com­ing to a head

Trump’s frus­tra­tions are boil­ing over af­ter Comey dis­missal

The Progress-Index Weekend - - NATION & WORLD - By Julie Pace and Jonathan Lemire

WASH­ING­TON — Af­ter four months in of­fice, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has be­come dis­trust­ful of some of his White House staff, 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 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.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff charged with ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion to the Amer­i­can peo­ple had an hour’s no­tice. Chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non learned on tele­vi­sion, ac­cord­ing to three White House of­fi­cials, though a per­son close to Ban­non dis­puted that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

When the White House’s de­fense 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 Fri­day morn­ing.

For a White House ac­cus­tomed to bouts of chaos, Trump’s han­dling of Comey’s fir­ing could have se­ri­ous and long-last­ing im­pli­ca­tions. Al­ready Trump’s de­ci­sion ap­pears to have em­bold­ened the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing into Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and the pres­i­dent’s as­so­ciates, with law­mak­ers an­nounc­ing a sub­poena for for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn. Comey’s al­lies also quickly made clear they would de­fend him against at­tacks from Trump, in­clud­ing dis­put­ing the pres­i­dent’s as­ser­tion that Comey told Trump he was not per­son­ally un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sev­eral peo­ple close to the pres­i­dent say his re­liance on a small cadre of ad­vis­ers as he mulled fir­ing Comey re­flects his broader dis­trust of many of his own staffers. He leans heav­ily on daugh­ter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted cam­paign spokes­woman and Keith Schiller, his long­time body­guard. Schiller was among those Trump con­sulted about Comey and was tapped by the pres­i­dent to de­liver a let­ter in­form­ing the di­rec­tor of his fir­ing.

Trump con­fi­dants say Ban­non has been marginal­ized 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 health care bill last week, as­so­ciates say the pres­i­dent has con­tin­ued to raise oc­ca­sional ques­tions about Priebus’ lead­er­ship in the West Wing. Still, Priebus was among the tight cir­cle of staffers Trump con­sulted about Comey’s fir­ing.

Trump spent most of the week out of sight, a marked change from a typ­i­cally jam­packed sched­ule that of­ten in­cludes mul­ti­ple on-cam­era events per day. Even when aides moved ahead on an ex­ec­u­tive or­der cre­at­ing a voter fraud com­mis­sion — a pres­i­den­tial pet project that some ad­vis­ers thought they had suc­cess­fully shelved — Trump signed the di­rec­tive in pri­vate.

[SUSAN WALSH/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks to mil­i­tary moth­ers in the East Room of the White House dur­ing a Mother’s Day cel­e­bra­tion Fri­day.

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