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Trump's frustrations boiling over after Comey dismissal

President Donald Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and long-time aides, and furious that the White House's attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel.

Mr Trump's frustrations came to a head this week after four months in office, with the firing of FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing the probe into his campaign's possible ties to Russia's election meddling.

Fearful that his own team would leak the decision, Mr Trump kept key staff in the dark as he pondered the dramatic move.

The communications staff charged with explaining the decision to the American people had an hour's notice.

Chief strategist Steve Bannon learned on television, according to three White House officials, though a person close to Mr Bannon disputed that.

When the White House's defence of the move failed to meet his ever-changing expectations, Mr Trump tried to take over himself. But he wound up creating new headaches for the White House, including with an apparent threat to Mr Comey.

"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Mr Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

For a White House accustomed to bouts of chaos, Mr Trump's handling of Mr Comey's firing could have serious and long-lasting implications.

Already Mr Trump's decision appears to have emboldened the Senate intelligence committee investigating Russia's election interference and the president's associates, with lawmakers announcing a subpoena for former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Mr Comey's allies also quickly made clear they would defend him against attacks from Trump, including disputing the president's assertion that Mr Comey told Mr Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Mr Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staff.

He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard.

Mr Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Mr Comey and was entrusted by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.

Trump confidants say Mr Bannon has been marginalised on major decisions, including Mr Comey's firing, after clashing with Jared Kushner.

And while Mr Trump praised chief of staff Reince Priebus after the House passed a health care bill last week, associates say the president has continued to raise occasional questions about Mr Priebus' leadership in the West Wing. Still, Mr Priebus was among the tight circle of staff Mr Trump consulted about Mr Comey's firing.

Mr Trump spent most of the week out of sight, a marked change from a typically jam-packed schedule that often includes multiple on-camera events per day.

Even when aides moved ahead on an executive order creating a voter fraud commission - a presidential pet project that some advisers thought they had successfully shelved - Mr Trump signed the directive in private.

Mr Trump is said to be seething over the flood of leaks pouring out of the White House and into news reports.

He has viewed even senior advisers suspiciously, including Mr Bannon and Mr Priebus, when stories about internal White House drama land in the press.

A dozen White House officials and others close to Mr Trump detailed the president's decision-making and his mood on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations and deliberations.

Much of Mr Trump's ire has been focused on the communications team, all of whom were caught off guard by Mr Comey's sacking.

He increasingly sees himself as the White House's only effective spokesman, according to multiple people who have spoken with him. By week's end, he was musing about cutting back on the White House's televised press briefings.

Mr Trump is mulling expanding the communications team and has eyed hiring producers from Fox News, according to one White House official.

White House officials had hoped last week's House vote would give the president a much-needed burst of momentum and infuse new energy into efforts to fully overhaul the "Obamacare" health law and pass a massive tax reform package. Aides were also eager for Trump's first foreign trip, a high-stakes blitz through the Middle East and Europe.

But the blowback from Comey's firing left the White House reeling once again. Trump's visible anger and erratic tweets prompted a reporter to ask press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday if the president was "out of control".

"That's, frankly, offensive," Mr Spicer said.

AP

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