In the first segment of Friday night's "Trump bombshell" report published almost at the same time by Reuters and the WSJ, anonymous sources reported that Trump is preparing a "war room" upon his Saturday return from Europe, to "combat negative reports and mounting questions about communication between Russia." We did point out some discrepancies: on one hand, Reuters said that Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner (who subsequently WaPo reported was trying to set up "backchannels" with Russians in the second Friday night long-weekend bombshell) were coordinating the "war room" and the White House's new messaging effort, which also aims to push Trump's policy agenda and schedule more rallies with supporters. On the other hand, contradicting Reuters, WSJ reported that neither Bannon nor Kushner were safe in the upcoming White House spring cleaning overhaul.
Now, one day later and with the latest Kushner story published, the WaPo has also chimed in on the alleged "war room" story with some additional details. While the gist of the story is the same, and is a recap of what is already known, including:
- "the White House plans to far more aggressively combat the cascading revelations about contacts between Trump associates, including Jared Kushner"
- "White House officials are also trying to find ways to revive Trump’s stalled policy agenda in Congress and the way the White House communicates with the public"
- "beefed-up operation could include the return of some of Trump’s more combative campaign aides, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was fired nearly a year ago, and former deputy campaign manager David N. Bossie, who made his name in politics by investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton for two decades"
- "a diminished role for embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer"
- "White House counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has been involved in related talks, including with prominent Trump backers outside Washington and on Capitol Hill"
- "White House counsel Donald McGahn is mulling expanding his office, and an outside legal team led by Marc E. Kasowitz is readying to meet with Trump and guide him"
- "Lewandowski, who was fired from the campaign amid serious clashes with Kushner and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, has also been suggested as an effective messenger"
... what is new is the following detail on the potential future role of Jared Kushner - or lack thereof - who has emerged as the alleged focal point of the FBI's probe into the White House. Here is what the WaPo reported on Saturday:
Some White House aides have discreetly discussed among one another whether Kushner should play a lesser role — or even take a leave — at least until the Russia-related issues calm, but they have been reluctant to discuss that view with Kushner himself, and Kushner’s network of allies within the West Wing has rallied behind him.
Those close to Kushner said he has no plans to take a reduced role, though people who have spoken to him say that he is increasingly weary of the nonstop frenzy. In recent weeks, the White House also brought on Josh Raffel as a spokesman to handle many of the issues in Kushner’s sweeping portfolio; Raffel works out of a shared office in the West Wing, although he also has space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
As for Priebus, he may be going to Greece:
Underscoring the uncertainty of what lies ahead, some Trump associates said there have been conversations about dispatching Priebus to serve as ambassador to Greece — his mother is of Greek descent — as a face-saving way to remove him from the White House. A White House spokeswoman strongly denied that possibility Saturday.
Still, as with most such pieces, the admission roughly halfway through the report is that the underlying premise is merely speculation... except perhaps for Sean Spicer:
Though no final decisions have been made, one option being discussed is having Spicer — who has been parodied on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” to devastating effect — take a more behind-the-scenes role and give up his daily, on-camera briefings. On Trump’s foreign tour, Spicer conducted only one briefing, an informal gaggle with the small, traveling press pool. Otherwise, he served more as an emcee, introducing other senior administration officials at more formal briefings.
On Saturday, it was Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, and McMaster who headlined the U.S. news conference at the conclusion of the Group of Seven summit in Taormina, Italy. Spicer introduced them and then retired to the corner of the room to watch McMaster and Cohn parry questions from journalists.
Another new detail: Trump's inspiration for a "war room" comes from Bill Clinton.
Conversations about what some are calling a “war room” have focused on a model similar to what emerged during President Bill Clinton’s tenure to cope with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other crises. Clinton pulled together a team of lawyers and communication and political aides to deal with those issues apart from the regular White House structure, with the aim of letting other business proceed as normally as possible.
Even so, Trump aides say they have come to the realization that "unflattering stories about Russia will be part of the daily conversation for the foreseeable future and acknowledge that the White House has been ill-equipped to handle them."
The above may Which may explain the deployment of a third aircraft carrier toward North Korea. As a reminder, the "Russia" stories came to screeching halt the day after Trump launced a ballistic missile attack on Syria, only to return with a vengeance after Trump fired FBI Director Comey as a new tide of "sources" emerged.
And speaking of sources, one of the handful of people actually quoted on the record in today's extensive WaPo piece said something that few can disagree with: “He was given the chance to look presidential and change the pictures on our television screens,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “But it will be harder for him to manage news back at home than abroad. … The worries he had when he left have not gone away. They’ve only gotten worse.”
Indeed, which is why going back to Jared Kushner, the NYT separately reported on Saturday that Kushner "has told friends that he and his wife have made no long-term commitment to remain by Mr. Trump’s side, saying they would review every six months whether to return to private life in New York."
Yet like the WaPo, NYT quotes sources close to the president’s son-in-law as saying that Kushner has no plans to step down from his role as a senior White House adviser. In fact, CNN indicated Kushner “was not going anywhere." He would continue to “focus on his work” and is “eager to cooperate with inquiries," according to reporter Jim Acosta.
While Kushner's fate remains unclear, a parallel question is if Trump's son-in-law decides (or is forced to) to depart the White House to take away the heat from Trump, whether Steve Bannon who was largely sidelined as a result of the growing influence of the Kushner/Goldman wing, will make a big return as Trump's core advisor. With Trump back in the country after a one week hiatus, we expect many of the questions to be resolved shortly.