President Donald Trump, increasingly frustrated with his White House rollout, vented to top aides on Friday over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Prior to departing for Florida, where he is spending the weekend, Trump convened on Friday a group of senior aides in the Oval Office, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior adviser Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump, chief strategist Steve Bannon, communications director Mike Dubke, and press secretary Sean Spicer.
The meeting was ostensibly to talk about next week’s packed schedule, which is expected to include the release of a new immigration travel ban and possibly an Obamacare replacement bill.
Bannon was heading on Saturday to Mar-a-Lago “for an EO launch meeting” with a team from the Department of Justice. They will meet with Department of Homeland Security officials and the president, according to a source familiar with the matter.
But at one point during Friday’s meeting, Trump’s focus turned to Sessions, who on Thursday announced he would step back from any investigation into the presidential campaigns, including allegations that Trump’s team were in contact with Russian intelligence officials as the country was engaging in cyber attacks designed to tilt the election Trump’s way.
Sessions came under pressure to recuse himself after the revelation that he met twice with the Russian ambassador last year, despite telling senators at his confirmation hearing that he had no contacts with the Russians during the campaign. Sessions, a chief adviser to Trump’s campaign, has denied wrongdoing and said the meetings were conducted in his capacity as a senator.
The meeting on Friday got heated once it turned to the topic of Sessions. What, Trump wanted to know, was the logic of the move? The president made it clear he thought the whole thing had been handled poorly, and that Sessions shouldn’t have recused himself, according to sources familiar with the meeting. His exasperation was apparent.
At one point, Trump addressed White House counsel Don McGahn, who was also in the room, directly, and said he was unhappy about the turn of events, the sources said.
“There were fireworks,” said one person briefed on the events.
Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon all weighed in with their thoughts. “There was a robust discussion,” said a second person familiar what occurred.
Priebus, who was expected by some aides to go on this weekend’s trip to Florida, stayed behind in Washington after the president’s flare-up, according to two people familiar with the matter.
One White House official said Priebus needed to stay in Washington to work on the Affordable Care Act replacement and the new executive order.
White House spokespeople didn’t respond to requests for comment. That Trump was frustrated on Friday with the Sessions recusal was first reported by the Washington Post’s Robert Costa in a tweet.
The Friday meeting was designed to prep for a week where Trump’s team wanted to focus on substantive policy rollouts. The White House is planning to sign a revised executive order on his controversial travel ban at the Department of Homeland Security on Monday, according to senior officials familiar with the matter. The move is meant to get past a controversy that has embarrassed the administration, with judges batting down their previous order.
His team has signaled to House Speaker Paul Ryan that they will embrace his health care bill next week, and aides hoped to get a marked-up bill ready.
To some degree, the president’s anger reflected a feeling that his week, which got off to a strong start with a well-received congressional address, was squandered.
Trump’s frustration also underscored Trump’s known dislike of admitting mistakes – or appearing like he’s giving ground. During a conversation with one associate on Friday, he expressed concern that Sessions recusing himself “made it seem like he’d done something wrong.”
That Trump continued to obsess over Sessions, even after he recused himself, is not unusual. Days after Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser, Trump continued to question whether he made the right decision, people who spoke to him said.
In other phone conversations with several people over the last 48 hours, the image-conscious Trump has spoken more generally about his frustrations with his administration – and the perceptions surrounding it. “He’s tired of everyone thinking his presidency is screwed up,” said one person who spoke to him.
After the meeting, Trump left for Florida, where he spoke at a Republican National Committee meeting on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, he sent out a number of tweets, some of which accused former President Barack Obama of tapping Trump Tower phone lines during the final days of the 2016 election, without citing evidence.
One White House official said he woke up Saturday morning to Trump’s tweets and grimaced. It was unclear, this person said, where the president had gotten the idea, but that it likely wasn’t from an official source. “It could have come from anywhere,” this person said.
Several other people close to Trump said they weren’t sure where he got his information for the posts. One of these people said most of Trump’s aides were back in Washington and woke up exasperated at the posts.
After making the explosive claims – and trashing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s TV ratings – in the Twitter rant, the president headed to the golf course near his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Powered by WPeMatico