It's Comey time, and Trump's war room has no soldiers
With CNN's clock already counting down to fired FBI Director Jim Comey's testimony on Thursday morning, where's the White House war room? Remember the scandal-containment unit that was supposed to quarantine the rest of the White House from Russia questions, so that President Trump could pursue a positive agenda, with the Clinton-style scandal machinery handling the investigations?
- I'm told that the inside-outside machinery, as envisioned by aides who frantically planned it while Trump finished his overseas trip, may never exist. Top Republicans say the White House has been unable to lure some of the legal and rapid-response talent they had been counting on.
- White House Counsel Don McGahn had drawn up an org chart that Trump's team liked. But Game Day is 48 hours away, and the boxes aren't filled.
- A person involved in the conversations said: "They had a pretty good structure, but they're not able to close the deal."
- Reasons include some power lawyers' reluctance to work with/for lead Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz; resistance by Kasowitz to more cooks in his kitchen; and lack of confidence that Trump would stick to advice. Some prospects worry about possible personal legal bills, and are skeptical Trump can right the ship.
- So far, the existing Trump and GOP infrastructure is still stuck with pushback duties.
After Trump's tweets yesterday undermining his own Supreme Court case on the travel ban, his Republican allies on Capitol Hill and downtown sounded weary and irritated at day after day of self-inflicted wounds:
- A top GOP operative said: "People are running out of patience. He's in a very tenuous position, where it wouldn't take a lot more bad news for things to come crumbling apart. Their complete inability to get ahead of the Russia story is so strange to people."
- The N.Y. Times' Michael Schmidt, who broke the story that Comey had kept memos of his conversations with Trump, made the remarkable disclosure on "Morning Joe" last week that it was Trump's twitter threat to Comey ("James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!") "that motivated some of the folks that I was talking to ... and led to them talking about how Trump told Comey to end the Flynn investigation. ... [T]he tweets ... loosen them up to talk about things."
Why it matters: On a call with reporters last evening, White House Legislative Affairs director Marc Short said he expects Republicans to pass healthcare and the 2018 budget this summer so the fall can be focused on tax reform. That should be achievable, but many White House allies are skeptical because so much bandwidth, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is being diverted to scandals and distractions.
- And don't forget it's Infrastructure Week!