Trump finds tumult on first work day back at the White House
WASHINGTON (CNN) — On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s communications director quit, his press secretary huffed and his spat with the German Chancellor boiled.
All were a day’s work for the increasingly agitated leader, who resumed his schedule in clamorous fashion after a week abroad and a federal holiday.
It was never expected to be an easy re-entry for the President. While he was overseas, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner came under increased scrutiny for his contacts with Russian officials. There was little movement on Trump’s legislative agenda. And West Wing aides became freshly tense amid reports Trump is considering firing some of them.
But even with those expectations, the tumult seemed unusually apparent as the White House chugged back to work.
News emerged early that Michael Dubke, the communications director of three months, was leaving his post. He wrote in a note to friends the decision to resign was for “personal” reasons. But in a West Wing rife with frustration and angst, few believe Dubke left on a high note.
“It’s one thing if you’re working at a place where your skills are appreciated,” a friend said. In Trump’s White House, “it’s just not working.”
Dubke, other officials suggested, would not be the last to go.
“I honestly can’t say that it’s going to be a wave,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters at the White House. “There will be more changes, but I don’t know how fast they are going to come.”
Trump is considering new ways to deliver his message, according to multiple people within the White House, who say the President is increasingly adamant his staff needs retooling. Even press secretary Sean Spicer conceded at multiple points Tuesday that he and his fellow press staffers could never fully explain Trump’s intentions.
“The best messenger is the President himself,” Spicer said, while simultaneously insisting Trump was happy with how his team was operating.
“I think he’s very pleased with the work of his staff,” Spicer said.
In the past 24 hours, however, at least three old hands from Trump’s campaign — manager Corey Lewandowski, deputy campaign manager David Bossie and communications director Jason Miller — have been spotted departing the West Wing as Trump seeks outside advice.
Lewandowski and Bossie are being eyed to help man Trump’s internal “war room,” meant to handle rapid response to the Russia allegations. A new set of outside lawyers is also being brought in to join the effort, which officials hope will operate separately from the rest of the West Wing.
Ivanka Trump was spied on the White House South Lawn speaking with the legal team’s chief, Marc Kasowitz, on Sunday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the Russia inquiry touched two other campaign associates: Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and surrogate Boris Epshteyn, both of whom investigators on Capitol Hill are requesting information from as part of their probe into Russian election meddling. Both men say they need more information from the committees.
Kushner, meanwhile, plans to maintain his broad-ranging portfolio of modernizing the government, managing foreign relations, and fostering Middle East peace talks, even as his contacts with Russians come under new scrutiny.
Kushner “has a strong team around him working on every part of his portfolio,” a source close to Trump’s son-in-law said, adding he wasn’t planning on leaving, at least of his own volition.
On Tuesday, Trump worked behind closed doors, interviewing candidates for a new FBI director and discussing whether to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement with his EPA administrator. Both announcements could come this week, officials say, offering Trump a chance to drive a news cycle away from Russia.
But if Trump remained unseen, he was certainly not unheard. In an early morning round of tweets, the President revealed frustration that his legislative agenda is proceeding slowly, though demonstrated a lack of clarity on Senate rules.
“The US Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!” he wrote, even though a proposed health care bill would only require a simple majority for passage (there remain concerns enough Republicans will back it).
He also lashed out at Germany after an increasingly sour back-and-fourth with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who suggested over the weekend that her meetings with Trump in Europe had proceeded so poorly that she questioned the durability of US-Germany ties.
“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military,” Trump fired back on Tuesday. “Very bad for U.S. This will change.”
And he refocused attention on the Russia issue, declaring the issue a distraction and a ploy for Democrats to explain their election loss.
“Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News,” he declared.
It was “fake news” that also ruffled Spicer during his daily press briefing. After forgoing an on-camera question-and-answer session for the past fifteen days, Spicer returned to the podium Tuesday facing questions about Kushner, Germany and the state of Trump’s staff.
But the acrimonious session came to an abrupt end after Spicer began lambasting reporters for propagating a false report that Trump hasn’t used a translation headset during the G-7.
“The reason that the President is frustrated is because there’s a perpetuation of false narratives, a use of unnamed sources over and over again about things that are happening, that don’t ultimately happen, and I think that is troubling,” he vented, before walking away to the sound of reporters’ shouts.