May 23, 2017

Copying Clinton, Trump builds scandal war room

Andrew Harnik / AP

Day 124... White House officials tell me they're gearing up for months, and likely years, of Russia defense. Trump and his inner circle are belatedly scrambling to install war-room-like mechanisms designed to prevent the drama and threat from consuming the entire West Wing, and derailing everything else.

Trump aides have studied precedents, including the Reagan White House's handling of Iran-Contra and President Clinton's scandal machinery.

The West Wing appears to be absorbing key lessons from its predecessors, although even Trump allies tell me he's just beginning to take steps to wall off the controversy that should have begun on Day 1:

  • Trump aides recognize the Russia defense will be essentially permanent, and are finally planning structures to reflect that.
  • A key takeaway from past administrations is to designate one office or official to handle all the legal and communications issues, so there's a consistent response and everyone else isn't constantly sucked in.
  • In "Trump looking at outside counsel for Russia probe," the WashPost's Bob Costa and Ashley Parker report: "[A]ttorneys who have spoken to the White House and who are seen as the finalists are Marc E. Kasowitz; Robert J. Giuffra Jr.; Reid H. Weingarten; and Theodore B. Olson."
  • "Two other attorneys who were originally viewed as contenders but have since drifted away from the mix ... are Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. ... and A.B. Culvahouse Jr."
  • "Kasowitz, who has known Trump for decades, is expected to take a leading role."
  • Separately, Trump "personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides — his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie — to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers," per Politico's Eliana Johnson and Josh Dawsey.

What could go wrong? One Trump ally said the list of legal eagles is encouraging: "These guys know how to fight a war."

  • Be smart: Both Republican and Democratic lawyers tell me the legal "Team of Rivals" could replicate some of the West Wing's dysfunction, forcing lawyers who are used to being in charge to compete for Trump's ear.

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