In lieu of the Friday night "Trump bombshell" deliverable from the NYT-WaPo complex, today it was Reuters' and the Wall Street Journal's turn to lay out the suspenseful weekend reads, previewing major potential upcoming changes to the Trump administration.
First, according to Reuters, Trump's top advisors are preparing to establish a "war room" to combat negative reports and mounting questions about communication between Russia. Steve Bannon and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisors to the president, will be involved in the new messaging effort, which also aims to push Trump's policy agenda and schedule more rallies with supporters. This "most aggressive effort yet" to push back against allegations involving Russia and his presidential campaign, will launch once Trump returns from his overseas trip.
Upon Trump’s return, the administration will add experienced political professionals and possibly more lawyers to handle the Russia probe, which has gained new urgency since the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to head the investigation, the sources said.
On Thursday, NBC News reported that Kushner, who held several meetings with Russian officials following the election, is himself a focus of the probe, making him the first current White House official to be caught up in it, although Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. On Friday afternoon, the AP quoted Kushner's lawyer that if the FBI wants to talk to Jared Kushner about his Russian contacts, he stands ready to talk to federal investigators as well as Congress about his contacts and his role in Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
FBI probe aside, Kushner and Bannon will work to step up the White House’s strategic messaging. Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski - who has been seen in the White House recently - is also expected to be part of the messaging operation according to Reuters. Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus have been laying the groundwork for the messaging operation this week, sources told the news outlet.
“Since the firing of Comey, that really exposed the fact that the White House in its current structure ... is not prepared for really a one-front war, let alone a two-front war,” a person who remains in regular communication with the White House told Reuters. “They need to have a structure in place that allows them to stay focused, [while] also truly fighting back on these attacks and these leaks.”
The "war room" is just one of the steps Trump and his advisers plan to take to respond to the probe into Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump reportedly hired Marc Kasowitz as his personal attorney earlier this week to represent him and guide him through the Russia investigations following the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. The president and his team are putting together a legal team of prominent lawyers who can help him best proceed through the questions surrounding whether his campaign colluded with Moscow.
Quoted by Reuters, Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a Trump friend, said he expects the president will travel more when he returns from overseas and encouraged the White House to focus on issues that pump up his base voters. “From my perspective, I think the president should be doing the stuff that he does best, which is talking about his agenda: jobs, trade and security,” Ruddy said.
Republicans in Congress are aching for Trump to leave the distraction of the Russia probe aside and focus on legislation and nominating officials to fill the hundreds of vacant slots across the administration. “What we really want to be able to do is tend to our business,” Mike Rounds, a Republican Senator from South Dakota, told Reuters. "We've got a healthcare bill we're working on. We've got tax reform that we think is important.”
Earlier on Friday, former House Speaker John Boehner said that Trump's time in office has been a "complete disaster" aside from foreign affairs. Boehner told an energy conference he supported efforts to "get to the bottom" of any potential interactions between Trump associates and the Russian government but described any calls to impeach Trump as the purview of "the crazy left-wing Democratic colleagues of mine."
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Second, in a separate but similar report from the WSJ, the paper writes that Trump is "actively discussing major changes" in the White House, including a shakeup of his senior team, after spending much of his free time during his overseas trip weighing the Russia investigation and the political crisis it poses for him. A flurry of meetings devoted to White House operations are scheduled for next week, officials said, and sparks are expected to fly.
While this isn't the first time a major shake up around Trump was announced as imminent, recalls Axios reporting two weeks ago that an "angry" Trump was planning a huge reboot, and that Priebus, Bannon and Spicer could be fired, this time the urgency is far greater, and the WSJ reports that other revisions on the table include a new filter of the president’s social-media habit and fewer scheduled press briefings, officials and allies said. The anticipated moves are the latest sign of how the investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s election, and the circumstances of the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, is defining the new administration. “Everything is in play,” one Trump adviser said.
The biggest change may be that Trump is about to lose his twitter privileges for good:
One major change under consideration would vet the president’s social media posts through a team of lawyers, who would decide if any needed to be adjusted or curtailed. The idea, said one of Mr. Trump’s advisers, is to create a system so that tweets “don’t go from the president’s mind out to the universe.”
Some of Mr. Trump’s tweets—from hinting that he may have taped conversations with Mr. Comey to suggesting without any evidence that former President Barack Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower—have opened him to criticism and at times confounded his communications team.
Trump aides have long attempted to rein in his tweeting, and some saw any type of legal vetting as difficult to implement. “I would be shocked if he would agree to that,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide.
It also appears that Sean Spicer is on his way out:
Other changes under discussion include removing communications director Mike Dubke and installing Sarah Sanders as the main spokesman instead of Mr. Spicer. Another consideration is scaling back on daily press briefings.
Mr. Spicer, one of the only practicing Catholics among Mr. Trump’s senior staff, was a last-minute scratch from the president’s meeting with Pope Francis this week, a move that shocked some senior administration officials.
Mr. Spicer and Ms. Sanders didn’t respond to further questions on any coming changes.
In a a contradiction from the Reuters report, the WSJ notes that neither Bannon nor Kushner themselves are safe.
Mr. Trump consulted Mr. Kushner on the firing of Mr. Comey, officials say. Mr. Bannon opposed the move and was absent from the inner circle who advised the president on the move. Mr. Bannon’s critics say they suspect him of leaking to the press and regard him as too much of a firebrand to massage the president’s agenda through Washington’s traditional processes. Mr. Kushner’s detractors in the West Wing refer to him as the “young princeling.”
But most interesting is the alleged emerging tension between Trump and his Goldman advisors: "Some Trump advisers have also questioned the judgment of communications officials, citing as an example the rollout of a tax-plan outline in April that featured Goldman Sachs alumnae Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director.
“The left is automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. And we just gave them an image of the rich and of Wall Street,” one Trump former campaign official said.
In an amusing tangent, the WSJ also points out that Trump’s return to Washington will mark the end of a period which, White House staffers said, "brought some relief from the hectic pace of the news surrounding the administration and the Russia investigation. Some noted that it gave them a rare time to eat dinner at home."
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While it could be just another red herring, it is likely that Trump's return may unleash the political chaos that dominated the news cycle for most of May. Alternatively, if Trump is serious about overhauling his communication strategy, his inner circle of advisors - especially those originating from Goldman, as well as cracking down on non-stop leaks, then there just is some hope that the relentless news bombardment may fade, if only for a few summer weeks. One can always hope, even if the odds are stacked very much against.