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Trump, Huddling With Aides, Looks to Get Past ‘Side Issues’

Posted by hkarner - 31. Mai 2017

Date: 30-05-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

As Russia investigations proceed, the administration seeks a reset

President Donald Trump after he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday.

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump, just back from his first overseas trip as president, met privately with top advisers on Sunday and Monday as he considered changes aimed at resetting the direction of an administration beset by expanding probes into his associates’ ties to Russia.

The Trump administration is in a “perpetual quagmire on side issues,” said Chris Ruddy, of friend of Mr. Trump’s and chief executive of Newsmax Media. “There is a lot of frustration for everyone at the White House right now.”

The Russia investigation, which has now touched Mr. Trump’s closest adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also frustrating Republicans on Capitol Hill at a time when they were hoping to notch legislative wins.

“They have to do a better job of responding quickly and effectively,” Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) said about the White House in an interview Monday. “The president has to be careful to not just say things without thinking them through.”

Changes under consideration range from shifting personnel to new roles for some already inside the administration.

One White House official said that in the current atmosphere, others in the building might step forward to see if they can pick up pieces of Mr. Kushner’s sweeping portfolio, in the view that he might be distracted by the investigation.

Mr. Kushner’s responsibilities include Middle East peace, relations with Mexico and China, and modernizing government—along with serving as a sounding board and confidant of the president. He spends about five to six hours a day in meetings with Mr. Trump.

“His portfolio has become so vast it literally can’t wait for him to sort this out to have the attention it needs,” the official said. “There are those of us who say, “ ‘How can we help?’ ”

Another aide, though, said Monday that Mr. Kushner isn’t about to relinquish any of his duties, noting that he helped engineer an overseas trip that the White House says was a success.

Mr. Kushner drew the eye of investigators after they learned he had considered setting up a secret communications line with Russia during the presidential transition to discuss the country’s military operations in Syria and other issues, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Kushner also met in December with Sergei Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank that was placed on a U.S. sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

For all the media focus on Mr. Kushner’s Russia conversations, he still hasn’t been contacted by investigators, the aide said. Mr. Kushner’s attorney has said his client is willing to cooperate in the probe.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said of Mr. Kushner: “When you’ve got someone who’s willing to be as transparent as he is, let’s not prejudge it and let’s see what if anything occurred.”

John Podesta, who served as former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff amid the Monica Lewinsky investigation, said the Trump team needs to “organize itself so that this becomes isolated and not consuming of everyone inside the White House.”

Mr. Podesta, who chaired Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, added that this White House “seems incapable of doing that in part because of the way Trump works: He’s constantly throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Meanwhile, White House aides describe a tension-filled atmosphere inside the West Wing, where backbiting and insecurity have fomented mutual suspicion and frustration. They describe the foreign trip, which took Mr. Trump to the Middle East and to a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized countries, in congratulatory terms while complaining that, back home, the rollout of the president’s budget proposal was mismanaged to the point it had little public impact.

In an attempt to reorient the discussion away from White House-driven headlines, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has aimed to highlight his chamber’s policy work, telling reporters last week that the Senate Republican agenda is “all about health care these days.”

But GOP lawmakers in both chambers have faced constituents alarmed by their efforts to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act and could encounter more in this week’s post-Memorial Day recess, potentially derailing the Senate’s already-perilous path to passing a health-care bill.

And the fallout from Mr. Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, who was heading the Russia probe, is expected to continue to reverberate on Capitol Hill in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The date of Mr. Comey’s appearance has yet to be scheduled.

The president also has said he would soon make a decision about whether the U.S. would remain a part of a Paris climate agreement, which also carries the risk of creating new fissures.

Mr. King, the New York Republican congressman, said Mr. Trump had never embraced the Paris treaty, “so nobody should be surprised by that.”

European leaders expressed concern over Mr. Trump’s public stances on his foreign trip, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the continent could no longer rely completely on other countries. Democrats said Mr. Trump needed to take immediate action to reassure U.S. allies in Europe, after he didn’t reiterate public support for a core security tenet of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“President Trump has shown the world an America that appears rudderless and in crisis,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said in a statement Monday. “I urge him to right the ship and take steps to reassure our allies that we stand by our NATO commitments without qualification and that we will continue to join them in the work of mitigating climate change.”

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