U.S. President Donald Trump’s White House is preparing to establish a 'war room' to combat mounting questions about ties between Russia and his presidential campaign, administration officials and persons close to Trump said, addressing a scandal that has threatened to consume his young presidency.
Upon Trump’s return from a nine-day overseas trip, the administration will add experienced political professionals and possibly lawyers to handle the Russia probe, which has gained new urgency since the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to head the investigation, the sources told Reuters.
Beyond pushing back at suggestions that Moscow is unduly influencing Trump’s administration, the messaging effort will also focus on advancing Trump’s stalled policy agenda and likely involve more trips out of Washington that will feature the kind of raucous rallies that were the hallmark of Trump’s campaign.
A person in regular touch with the White House said it needed a new structure to focus on the “new reality” that there would be continued leaks to the media from the federal law enforcement and intelligence communities, leaks that have increased in frequency since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey this month.
“Since the firing of Comey, that really exposed the fact that the White House in its current structure ... is not prepared for really a one-front war, let alone a two-front war,” he said. “They need to have a structure in place that allows them to stay focused” while “also truly fighting back on these attacks and these leaks.”
The current structure isn’t doing enough to drive his own agenda, the person said.
The White House declined to comment on plans for a 'war room' but said Trump will be looking to build on momentum it believes it has built up during the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Europe. A White House official confirmed plans to hold more rallies.
Trump returns to Washington on Saturday from his first trip abroad as president.
“The president has had an incredibly successful trip overseas and the White House looks forward to continuing an aggressive messaging strategy to highlight his agenda when we return to D.C.,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
KUSHNER, BANNON INVOLVED IN 'WAR ROOM'
Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump, will be involved in the new strategic messaging operation, as will Steve Bannon, another top adviser who specializes in managing Trump’s populist appeal and shaping his political image, the sources said. Bannon and Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, have been laying the groundwork for the plan this week, they added.
On Thursday, NBC News and the Washington Post reported that Kushner, who held several meetings with Russian officials following the election, is a focus of the probe, making him the first current White House official to be caught up in the probe, although Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, is also expected to be part of the effort. Lewandowski, who has been seen in the White House recently, could join the administration as early as next week, a source close to him said.
Reuters has reported that Comey kept a detailed record of a meeting with the president before his dismissal in which Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denies that there was ever any effort by Trump to interfere with the probe.
Flynn was fired in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his talks with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak.
This month, the Justice Department named Robert Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, as an independent special counsel in the probe, setting off alarms at the White House and stoking fears that it will have to endure a protracted investigation that may involve extended interviews with current officials.
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