'Category five hurricane' at White House as Trump's staffers turn on each other over Russian email scandal

President's team scrambles to contain damage as aides admit they feel 'helpless'

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 12 July 2017 21:22
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The White House is reportedly in crisis mode after Trump Jrs emails caused an uproar
The White House is reportedly in crisis mode after Trump Jrs emails caused an uproar

In the halls of the US capitol, many Republicans are keeping a cool demeanour when asked if they are concerned with emails released by Donald Trump Jr that show him facilitating a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who said she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The White House, similarly, has swatted away concerns publicly. Mr Trump Jr did not do anything wrong, they said hours after the emails were released. He’s simply being transparent. He’s a high-quality person.

But a contrasting picture of the state of affairs in the West Wing has emerged from White House officials, who say they feel blind-sided, and liken the revelations within the emails to a major storm hitting land at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

One adviser to Donald Trump told Politico they felt “essentially helpless” following the revelations, because the exchange occurred amid a chaotic, “anything goes” campaign with few rules.

The same individual said they and several other people in the White House they had spoken to had no idea about the meetings, even though Mr Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, was also at the meeting.

While the President has not made any public appearances since he returned to Washington from his trip to the G20 summit in Germany, people who have spoken to him in the past several days say the commander-in-chief is furious.

Mr Trump is fuming and blaming the news media he frequently spars with, according to the Associated Press, but his anger is not directed at his son. He is also reportedly questioning the quality of the advice he has received from his senior staff.

Other reports indicate that staffers have turned on one another, pointing fingers to place blame on colleagues in an effort to avoid the President's ire.

The President bit back at the media on Twitter amid chaos, urging his followers to disregard media reports with anonymous sources, and insisting that his White House is running efficiently, and that they’re focused on policy issues.

Outside allies who contend that Mr Trump Jr won’t face legal percussions, also noted that the emails story is a disaster for the White House’s public image. It’s a “Category 5 hurricane” for the West Wing, one outside ally told the Washington Post. Another told that paper that CNN graphics showing the web of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia resembles the sinister Netflix series “House of Cards” in which, yes, the Presidency is stolen through less than savoury means.

The emails have once again thrust questions surrounding the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia into the national spotlight just as the White House and congressional Republicans hoped to pull together a healthcare overhaul bill this summer that the GOP could coalesce around.

Mr Trump Jr posted on Twitter in what he said was an attempt at transparency in good faith. The emails show him corresponding with a British music publicist who indicated that he was working to connect the Trump campaign with a source connected to the Russian government who could provide damaging information about Ms Clinton’s ties to Russia. The liaison also noted that the Russian government has an interest in helping Mr Trump to beat Ms Clinton.

Mr Trump’s eldest son said that the meeting had proved unfruitful, and said that the Russian lawyer had “no information to provide”. He also noted that he could have handled the meeting better.

But critics say there are several problematic elements to the meeting, which included Mr Trump Jr, Mr Kushner, ad former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Mr Kushner, for instance, failed to note in federal filings that he had met with Russian sources during the campaign.

Another claim is that the emails show the Trump campaign at least attempted to collude with the Russian government to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Another concern is surrounding US campaign finance law, which prohibits campaigns from accepting foreign donations or gifts of value — like information — from foreign sources.

Mr Trump Jr has reportedly had a changing mood regarding the emails story. When the first stories were published by the New York Times over the weekend, he was reportedly worried about their implications. Since then, however, his perspective has shifted and he has become steeled to fight back against an issue he has indicated he thinks the media is blowing out of proportion.

Still, the White House has struggled to mount a strong defence of the meeting. Vice President Mike Pence has sought to distance himself from the scandal, saying he hadn’t joined the campaign at that point. Meanwhile, the West Wing’s communications team has stated that there’s no distance between Mr Pence and Mr Trump on the issue.

White House Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the whole thing “ridiculous” during a daily press briefing.

But, just like the President, the briefing was off camera. Mr Trump didn’t have any public events scheduled - though the White House scheduled an interview for him with a Christian television network - leading up to his next foreign trip, when he’ll fly to France to celebrate Bastille Day.

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