Saturday, 15 Dec 2018

Trump’s fallout on Putin: Inside the tumultuous week of the White House

Executive time began early Thursday, just after sunrise

Feeling exasperated and fiery when he woke up at the White House residence, President Trump dismissed [2099003] his Twitter grievances about how the media was covering its summit in Helsinki. And, refusing to be intimidated, Trump issued an order to National Security Adviser John Bolton: hold a second summit and officially invite Putin to visit Washington.

The two presidents had already discussed the possibility of a follow-up meeting, but at Trump's leadership on Thursday morning, Bolton went into action to make it official, making an opening to the Kremlin. In the middle of the afternoon, the White House announced that preparations for a summit in Washington were in progress

The ballot landed halfway through a remarkably candid interview with the director Daniel Coats National Intelligence at the Aspen Security Forum. between Trump and his administration. The chief intelligence officer criticized Trump's performance at the Helsinki Summit and, taking a deep breath and then offering a long grimace, he let it be known that he had no prior knowledge of the follow-up meeting with Putin. Special, "said Coats ironically, as the crowd in Aspen, Colorado, gathered around him to express his sympathy for being left in the dark.

For Trump and his White House, the days following the Helsinki summit were an unofficial march. Week back – a daily jamming corrections and clarifications of the West Wing. Each announcement, intended to mitigate the global fallout from the president's russophile performance in Helsinki, was followed by another mishap that only increased consternation.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary and Stephen Miller, White House Policy Advisor July 18, 2018. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

Just as Trump was preparing to take off at his golf course New Jersey for the weekend and turn the page on a week of controversy Russia, more bad news arrived Friday. Reports surfaced, first in The New York Times, that the FBI had registered in the fall of 2016 Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, discussing payments to silence an old Playboy central page that alleged an affair extraconjugale with Trump

. This portrait of a tumultuous week in the White House amid growing concerns about Trump's approach to Russia comes from interviews with a dozen Trump officials and confidants, many of whom were talking about the condition of anonymity to freely tell private conversations. started Monday in Helsinki, although the magnitude did not take place for Trump for several hours. He left behind the scenes after his 46-minute press conference with Putin – in which he seemed to accept Putin's denial of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign over the findings of US intelligence agencies – delighted of his own performance. The President felt strong, impressed by two friendly interviews he had made with Fox News Channel personalities before boarding Air. Force One to return from the northern capital

. A dark reality settled when he consumed an almost universally negative cable news coverage and the assistants began to examine pages on pages of printed statements from fellow Republicans lambasting the president. Trump called his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to compel him, and he also snuggled with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in his cabin in front of the plane to develop strategies. Trump and his collaborators first agreed on the sending by the president of a tweet that repeated: "I have great confidence in my people." ;intelligence."

President Trump, left and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

But this is not the case. did not silence the tumult, and the assistants knew that they had a big problem.

Trump himself was puzzled. He drew closer to his impressions of Putin closely – loud, clever and cunning, according to Trump's assessment – and told his associates that he regarded the Russian as a formidable opponent with whom he enjoys the interactions. He was also furious about the negative media coverage of a summit that he said had been an obvious success. And he was complaining to some of what he saw as an underlying angle of the electoral controversy: that the Democratic National Committee authorized the hacking of its server.

Trump complained about the difficult question posed by Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press He asks why Trump would have denounced the interference of Russia in the elections in the face of Putin, "with the eyes of the whole world", and the President denied it. Assists tried to explain to Trump that almost any journalist would have asked such a sharp question at that time.

But, as one White House official said: "If you do not like the answer, you do not like the question"

The President did not like the question. He told CNBC later in the week, "Some of these media fools have said to me:" Why did not you stay there, look it in the face, walk to him and start shouting at him? "" Are these people crazy? I want to make a deal.

Tuesday morning, Trump told his friends that he did not understand what was happening. But his advisers understood. A coterie of them – including Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Councilor Kellyanne Conway, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine, Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller, Bolton and Sanders – met Trump to write a statement that he would do in the afternoon, Shine, new in his work, also wanted to change the narrative, and after a career as a Fox News executive, he focused on the subject. imaging – eager for Trump to supplant the image. of himself standing admiringly beside Putin with fresh content for cable news.

Trump personally examined the transcript first and then the video of his press conference and provided the "double negative" explanation that he finally provided. that when he said in Helsinki that he saw no reason for electoral pirates to "be" Russian, he meant "would not do it".

Initially, the president feared that his statement would be considered or rather not endure the criticism – the kind of concessions that he loathes to do. But senior advisers have reassured him that he really meant that he did not see why the Russian would not be to blame, he would simply offer a clarification, not spelunking.

The judgment of Clouding Trump all week was his apparent inability to distinguish between Russian "interference", of which there is overwhelming evidence, and Russian "complicity" with the Trump campaign, which special adviser Robert S. Mueller III continues to investigate, and whose president insists that it has not occurred. 19659028] "The biggest problem is that he believes that the interference is synonymous with collusion," said Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.). "No one else thinks so." I think that he is very sensitive to going there because he thinks that undermines his legitimacy. "

In the middle of the week, some in Trump's orbit thought that" I'm going to get it right. " he would come out relatively unscathed.

"This president has gone through innumerable storms.The political obituary has been written many times and needs to be rewritten," said former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. broken the mold when it comes to. . . which would have been a stunt for any other politician. "

But there was still evidence to come at Wednesday's ministerial meeting on the economy, as staff members opened the door to journalists, Cecilia Vega, of ABC News , asked Trump if he still believed that the Russians were targeting the United States

. pronounced a word: "No."

Sanders and other aides in the Cabinet room n & rsquo; Did not consider the president's comment an answer to Vega's question.But press organizations, including the Washington Post, alerted the media that Trump had once again undermined his intelligence officials, who had warned against the active Russian threats.And the White House had a new crisis in his hands.

Sanders rushed to join the president, who had already left for the common Andrews base to greet the family of 39, a secret service agent whose remains returned The officer died after suffering a stroke in Scotland while he was part of the President's support team. The press secretary delayed her afternoon briefing until she conferred with Trump, and relayed the president's response.

"I talked to the president," Sanders told reporters. "He did not answer that question, he said no, he does not take questions."

But there was another problem for the administration. Sanders was questioned about Vladimir Putin's proposal that Mueller would go to Moscow to interrogate Russian hacking suspects in exchange for Russians interrogating US officials, including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Trump had described Putin 's proposal as "interesting idea" and Sanders did not rule out – even though the State Department had described it as "serious". "absurd".

"The president will work with his team and we will let you know if there is an announcement on this front," said Sanders, who took care not to declare the lectern policy before arguing for the first time with Trump.

The episode revealed a naivety on the part of the president. The White House aides worried that Trump does not recognize the massive diplomatic and security implications of the Americans' move to an autocratic regime that jails and kills dissidents. At a meeting on Thursday morning, Trump's national security team saw that the president was focusing mainly on the send-Mueller-to-Moscow portion. of the proposal – not on a cross-examination of a former US ambassador. Later, after discussing the matter with Trump, Sanders issued the president's final verdict, saying that he disagreed with Putin's proposal, which she said had been "Against all odds".

Meanwhile, at a staff meeting, Conway signaled to the team that Coats was going to sit down for an interview with NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell in front of a gathering of leaders opinion and media elite in Aspen. Conway warned her colleagues that Coats could make the headlines – and she was prescient.

The White House had little visibility on what Coats could say. The Intelligence Director's team had refused at least one offer from a senior White House official to help him prepare for the long-planned interview, pointing out that he knew of Mitchell for years and that he was comfortable talking to him.

Coats was extraordinarily outspoken in the interview, sometimes questioning Trump's judgment – such as the president's decision to meet Putin for two hours without any assistant beyond the interpreters – and revealing the disagreement between the president and the intelligence community. The show was all the more surprising as Coats is nicknamed "Marcel Marceau", after the French mime, in the circles of national security because the director so seldom opines with Mitchell

that Coats' comments were badly received. , where Trump's advisers saw him as playing his elite audience in Aspen at the expense of the president. A senior White House official said, "Coats has become a thug" and reminded another colleague suggesting, "He could just as easily have said that he was DNI for Obama."

A US official has rebuffed the criticism, claiming "Not in Coats' DNA" to seek the spotlight and that he would never try to embarrass the president.

But the incongruous split screen was striking. While the White House was at an all time low, struggling to come out of a seemingly endless week-long walk, the Aspen crowd seemed to enjoy a high-altitude party.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Aspen discouraged foreign interference in American politics, Trump's angry target received the welcome of a hero.

Several hundred people crowded into a roasting tent rose when Rosenstein came in, and many stayed after his speech, hoping for a coveted recollection: a self-portrait with the prosecutor overseeing the Mueller probe

Shane Harris in Aspen, at Colorado, and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.