Political News

As Russia scandal touches his son, Trump privately rages

Posted July 12

— The snowballing revelations about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer during last year's presidential campaign have broadsided the White House, distracting from its agenda as aides grapple with a crisis involving the president's family.

The public has not laid eyes on the president since his return from Europe Saturday. But in private, Trump has raged against the latest Russia development, with most of his ire directed at the media, not his son, according to people who have spoken to him in recent days.

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that his son was "open, transparent and innocent," again referring to the investigation as "the greatest Witch Hunt in political history." The president also questioned the sources of the media reporting on the story, despite the fact that his son personally released four pages of emails in which he communicates with an associate claiming to be arranging a meeting with a Russian government lawyer.

The bombshell revelation that Trump Jr. was eager to accept information from Moscow landed hard on weary White House aides. While staffers have grown accustomed to a good news cycle being overshadowed by the Russia investigations, Trump aides and outside advisers privately acknowledged that this week's developments felt more serious.

In the emails, the intermediary says the attorney has negative information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that is part of the Russian government's efforts to help Trump in the campaign. The then-candidate's son responds: "I love it."

This new setback raises new questions about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow during the election, a charge the president has denied for months. And it points those questions more directly at the inner circle of Trump's own family.

As has been the pattern for Trump's White House, the controversy has sparked a new round of recriminations among the president's team. Nearly a dozen White House officials and outside advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the mood in the West Wing.

The president, in conversations with confidants, has questioned the quality of advice he has received from senior staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus. However, Priebus has been a frequent target of criticism for months and even those taking aim at him now said it did not appear as though a shakeup was on the horizon.

There has also been a difference of opinion within the West Wing as to how to handle the crisis, with some aides favoring more transparency than others. Some of the unhappiness centers on Trump's legal team, which is led by New York attorney Marc Kasowitz.

An unusual statement Saturday night from the legal team's spokesman Mark Corallo appeared to claim Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort were duped into meeting with the Russian lawyer, and was viewed as particularly unhelpful by senior White House officials.

The president, again on Twitter, pushed back Wednesday on the narrative of a dysfunctional administration, writing that the White House "is functioning perfectly" and claiming that "I have very little time for watching T.V."

At least 10 of the president's tweets since Monday have been about TV shows or links to videos from the Fox News Channel.

The revelations come at a pivotal moment for Trump and the Republican Party, as GOP senators race to finish work on a health care overhaul that has divided the party. Trump has largely stayed on the sidelines of the policy negotiations on the measure, but has still publicly pressed GOP senators to wrap up work on legislation this summer and fulfill one of the party's central promises to voters.

On Capitol Hill, some Republican lawmakers cast the Russia controversy as a distraction from the health care debate.

"We ought to be disciplined and not be distracted by things that may be legitimate but not right now in our lane," said Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The matter has also distracted from a brief stretch in which some White House advisers believed they were finding their footing.

Trump aides, who view clashes with the media as central to the president's agenda, were emboldened when three journalists from CNN resigned after the network withdrew a story about a Trump ally. Trump's allies were also heartened by his trip to Europe last week, feeling that his speech saluting national pride in Poland was a high point of his presidency and believing that he held his own during meetings with foreign leaders at an international summit in Germany.

But the afterglow of Trump's trip quickly vanished, replaced once again with questions about the swirling federal and congressional investigations into Russia's election meddling.

And Trump allies took notice Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence distanced himself from the revelation by the president's son. In a statement, Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the vice president "was not aware of the meeting," adding Pence was "not focused on stories about the campaign especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."

Pence was named Trump's running mate in the middle of July 2016, several weeks after the meeting involving the president's son.

Trump Jr, who is running the family business with his brother, huddled with friends and close business associates after the first stories dropped, his mood shifting from worry to defiance over the story's lifespan, according to confidants. He has told those close to him that while he realizes the optics of the meeting aren't ideal, he has echoed his father in believing that the media have overblown the matter and, despite some opposition among his allies, has said he wants to publicly fight back.

But White House aides struggled with bringing forth a strong defense. Though Sanders called charges of collusion "ridiculous," the White House press briefing remained off-camera for the second consecutive day, limiting the power of her pushback.

And the president himself was slated to stay out of sight. He had no public events scheduled for Wednesday until he leaves for another overseas trip, this time to France.

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The story has been corrected to reflect a reference to the singular lawyer instead of lawyers in the 9th paragraph, which begins ' ... An unusual... '

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Lemire reported from New York.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Pace at http://twitter.com/@JPaceDC

58 Comments

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  • Alex Yopp Jul 13, 11:48 a.m.
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    Hardly - 'In October [2015] the government bypassed the normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole,' Assistant US Attorney Paul Monteleoni told a federal judge during a court hearing on January 6, 2016.
    'That's a discretionary act that the statute allows the Attorney General to do in extraordinary circumstances.
    'In this case, we did that so that Mr. Katsyv could testify.
    'And we made the further accommodation of allowing his Russian lawyer into the country to assist,' he said.

  • Clarence Drumgoole Jul 13, 9:24 a.m.
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    Obama, Hillary? Thought Trump "WON"?

  • Michael Bawden Jul 13, 6:17 a.m.
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    So the OBAMA administration lets this Russian lawyer into US without visa under "extroidinary" circumstances. Watch this Donald Jr investigation disappear quickly. Every time Hillary or Obama admin start getting looked at in an investigation the investigation stops or is stalled. Can someone explain that?

  • John Archer Jul 12, 7:10 p.m.
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    Now you're making yourself look silly. Stop listening to Alex Jones.

  • Teddy Fowler Jul 12, 5:06 p.m.
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    Haha... your list is small...basically unimpressive and not all correct... he absolutely did not cut the deficit... in fact it went up 9 trillion dollars while he was president.... and he did not avoid scandals whatsoever... the stimulus heist, operation fast and furious, Eric holder contempt, Obamacare, spying on journalists, IRS scandal, Benghazi, Clinton secret server, NSA spying, Bowe Bergdahl, Iran nuclear deal and ransom payment, and others

  • Raleigh Rose Jul 12, 4:29 p.m.
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    Obama had a lot of accomplishments and the killing of OBL took more than him 'being around.' The operation would not have happened if he hadn't made the call and it was incredibly risky. If it failed, it would cost American lives, damaged our relationship with Pakistan and emboldened the terrorists. Yes, there was risk to Obama politically, but the possible cost of American lives would have been the heaviest toll and if that had happened, Obama would have been blamed. Think Benghazi on a much grander scale. So, no, it took much more than him being around and to describe it as such downplays the difficult decisions any POTUS has to make when it comes to our military forces.

    There is also the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the turnaround of the auto industry, reversed W torture policies, credit card reform, Veteran Homelessness was cut in half while he was POTUS through Opening Doors and cut the deficit and avoided scandal.

  • Raleigh Rose Jul 12, 4:21 p.m.
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    Oppositional research has been found to have value in courts in the past, so you really can't say that info that Trump Jr. wanted from the Russians had no value. It doesn't have to be monetary value to have value. But, this is a situation that has never happened before so it will be up to campaign finance law experts and probably the court system to make a determination, but based on precedent, info like what TJR was looking, is valuable.

  • Teddy Fowler Jul 12, 4:21 p.m.
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    of course they are (heavy sarcasm noted)

  • Alex Yopp Jul 12, 4:18 p.m.
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    Looks like now the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the Justice Department are now investigating whether the Trump campaign ( Jared Kushner) assisted Russia in targeting voters and spreading fake news about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

    "According to McClatchy, investigators are specifically evaluating if its digital operation, headed by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, directed Russian cyber operatives to particular voting jurisdictions in key states where support for Clinton was waning. Investigators are also probing whether the Trump campaign helped Russia in releasing thousands of emails from Democratic leaders through Wikileaks."

  • Teddy Fowler Jul 12, 4:16 p.m.
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    Sure it was a great moment in American history.. no one can deny that.... but if that is your criteria for a successful presidency... then he was an awesome president.

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