President Trump is reportedly considering a major shakeup to his White House staff and bringing back top campaign strategists over his frustrations by what he sees as his team’s inability to contain the crisis involving alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Expanding teams of lawyers and experienced public relations experts are being recruited, the Associated Press reported Sunday, as new revelations surface about Moscow’s interference and possible improper dealings with the Trump campaign and associates. The disclosures dogged Trump during his first trip abroad since taking office and threaten to overwhelm and stall the agenda for his young presidency.
The latest reports have taken aim at Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner is alleged to have spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. about setting up a back-channel communications network with Moscow during the presidential transition.
Trump did not come out directly and defend Kushner, but decried what he called the “fake news media” in a series of tweets earlier Sunday. He focused heavily on leaks — both those coming out of the White House and an intelligence leak blamed on Americans about this week’s deadly bombing at a concert in England.
The back channel was meant to connect Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s first national security adviser, with Russian military leaders, the AP reported. Flynn was fired in February, officials saying he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call.
While overseas, Trump’s longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, joined a still-forming legal team to help the president shoulder the intensifying investigations into Russian interference in the election and his associates’ potential involvement. More attorneys with deep experience in Washington investigations are expected to be added, along with crisis communication experts, to help the White House in the weeks ahead.
“They need to quarantine this stuff and put the investigations in a separate communications operation,” said Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel for President Bill Clinton.
Trump believed he was facing more of a communications problem than a legal one, despite the intensifying inquiries, one person familiar with his thinking told the AP.
As he mulls changes, Trump has entertained bringing his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, formally back into the fold. Both Lewandowski and Bossie discussed the prospect with the president before his trip, according to one person told of the conversations.
As a possible shakeup looms, Trump has other issues to deal with on the home front. Aside from the Russia investigation, the president still has to make an official decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement all the while defend his budget plan and hope his health care bill garners support in the Senate.
Trump also has to decide soon on a Pentagon recommendation to add more U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, as well as boosting reinforcement for the beleaguered Afghan military.
While taxes have taken a back seat in recent weeks, Trump tweeted Sunday: “The massive TAX CUTS/REFORM that I have submitted is moving along in the process very well, actually ahead of schedule. Big benefits to all!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.