"War of the Siege": Republican anxiety increases as Trump faces increasing legal and political dangers


President Trump landed Marine One and returned to the White House South Lawn on December 7, 2018. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

An increasing number of Republicans fear that a series of new revelations in Russia's deep investigations have dramatically escalated the legal and political danger to the presidency of Donald Trump and threatens to consume even the rest of the party.

President Trump added to the turmoil Saturday announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who sees lack of political judgment and subtlety of leading the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Trump remains stubborn in his belief that he can outsmart his opponents and overcome any threat, according to councilors. In the Russian probe, he continues to scream denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of transgression by his former partners have "totally clear" him.

But anxiety is increasing among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House do not have a real plan to deal with the crisis in Russia as they confront a host of other problems at home and at the same time. ;abroad.

Faced with the dawn of his third year in office and his call for re-election, Trump is entering into a hailstorm. The Democrats are preparing to take control of the House in January with a subpoena to investigate corruption. Global markets are faltering from its commercial war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation of special attorney Robert S. Mueller III on Russian interference is intensifying. And the court filed Friday in a separate federal case implied Trump in a crime.

The White House is adopting what an official has called a "shrug" strategy for Mueller's findings, calculating that most of the GOP's core voters will believe anything the president tells him to believe.

But some allies fear that the president's coalition could collapse under increasing pressure. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most difficult phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted that 2019 would be a year of "siege war" and throw the a narrow circle of the president as naively optimistic and not very sophisticated.

"The Democrats will arm Mueller's report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses," Bannon said. "The president can not trust the GOP to be present when it counts … They do not feel any sense of duty or responsibility to be with Trump."

This portrait of Trump's White House in a precarious situation is based on interviews with 14 administration officials, confidants and presidential allies, some of whom have spoken on condition of being anonymous to openly discuss private exchanges.

Rather than building a war room to handle intersecting crises like past administrations did, Trump White House is short of personnel, stuck in a bunker mentality and largely resigned to a plan to arm it. The political and communication agents are mainly inspired by the president and letting him guide the message with his spontaneous outbursts.

"A war room, are you serious?" Said a former White House official when asked about internal preparations. "They never had one, they will never have one, they do not know how to do it."

Trump's decision to change his chief of staff, however, seems to be a recognition of the fact that he needs a strong political team for the remainder of his first term. The principal candidate for the job is Nick Ayers, the chief of staff of Vice President Pence and an operational expert in the campaign, known for his political acumen and deep network in the party.


Michael Cohen, center, former personal attorney for President Trump, left the federal court in New York on November 29, 2018, after pleading guilty to having lied to Congress. (Justin Lane / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock)

During the 18-month inquiry into special councils, Trump turns his own deceptive reality on its own, trying to cheat the reputation of Mueller's operations and federal forces in an attempt to discredit their final conclusions in advance.

The president told his friends that he believed that the special consultant was stirring up and finding nothing significant. "They're all games and I try to connect points that make no sense," said a friend describing Trump's vision of Mueller's progress. "Trump is angry, but he is not very worried."

But the latest depositions of Mueller's court offer new evidence of Russian efforts to forge a political alliance with Trump before he became president and to detail to what extent his former aides are cooperating with prosecutors.

Some GOP senators were particularly shaken by last week's revelation that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had met Mueller's team 19 separate times – a distressing signal to them that the probe could be more serious than it was it had presumably been hypothesized, according to the most senior Republican officials.

Even in the friendliest neighborhoods, there are new traces of trouble. Tucker Carlson, host of the Fox News Channel president, criticized Trump in an interview last week for failing to keep his electoral promises, understanding the legislative process and learning to govern effectively.

For now, Republicans at Capitol Hill are still inclined to support Trump and give the president the benefit of the doubt. But a pro-Trump senator privately said that a break-up point would have been if Mueller had documented the conspiracy with the Russians.

"Then they lost me," said the senator, pointing out that several Republican lawmakers have been willing to publicly break up with Trump when they believe it is in their interests – as many have done on the role of Saudi hereditary prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), An explicit critic of Trump and frequent subject of his wrath, said: "The president's situation is full of increasing danger, and it is obvious to all those who pay attention, which is all of my Republican colleagues. "

Another possible break point could come if Trump forgives his former campaign president, Paul Manafort, who has aroused the sympathy of the president while he is in solitary confinement in a Virginia prison following the collapse of his agreement with Mueller's team , White House helpers and Republican legislators said. Trump's advisors said they understand that Manafort's forgiveness could be hard to defend and could prompt reproaches from Republican allies.

The special adviser on Friday accused Manafort of saying "multiple recognizable lies" during interviews with prosecutors. Manafort was convicted of tax crimes and bank fraud and pleaded guilty to further charges, including conspiring to defraud the United States by hiding years of income and failing to disclose lobbying for a Russian political and political party. Russian in Ukraine.

Trump's legal team, meanwhile, is preparing not only for Mueller's new developments, but also for an assault of Congress demands. The new White House advisor Pat Cipollone and his partner, Emmet T. Flood, are the leaders in the interior, even though both have worried about being out of the spotlight.

Cipollone has scoured reports from Congress employees with experience in managing investigations and trying to recruit them to the White House, officials said. Meanwhile, Flood, who advised former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment, has served for months to vigorously exercise executive privilege once home Democrats take over the majority.

However, hiring remains difficult as potential staff members worry about the need to hire a personal attorney if they adhere and express uncertainty about the ongoing turbulence within the White House hierarchy, as outlined by the announcement Kelly's departure Saturday.

Bannon said he and others were urging contacts in the White House to recruit David N. Bossie, former vice-director of Trump's campaign and a former congressional investigator who was known for his onboard tactics.

The head of Trump's attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said that he and his team are busy writing a provocative "counter-revolt" on Mueller, which the president boasted this week of 87 pages. Giuliani described the effort as a collaboration in which he, Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and other lawyers draft several sections and then exchange them among the group, discussing how to frame various passages on the president's conduct and Russian interference.

"We are writing a lot and we will choose what to choose, we are trying to reflect on every possibility," Giuliani said. "I'm sure we'll take the lead in defense [Trump] publicly, if it needs defense, as we always do ".

Some of Trump's allies encouraged him to strengthen his legal team. A confidant recalled telling the president: "You need to get yourself an army of lawyers who know what the hell they are doing."

So far, Trump's public relations strategy has been above all to attack Mueller rather than contrasting the facts of his investigation. But Lanny Davis, a former Clinton lawyer, said the approach has limits.

"No matter what your client says, if you're not ready with factual messages to refute the allegations, you'll fail," said Davis, who now advises Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, who is facing Possible custodial sentence for crimes including lying in Congress on his contacts in Russia. "Even if you think the Trump strategy to attack the messenger can continue to work, it will not work once the Mueller report is finished."

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, said that Clinton's experience in 1998, when the warring president questioned the special prosecutor and warned against the GOP, is instructive for Trump and Republicans, showing them how to be both combative and confident in chaos.

"You can not have so many smart lawyers, with all the power of the government, and do not get something bad out," said Gingrich from the special adviser's team. "Mueller must find something, like Trump jaywalked 11 times, the media will go crazy for three days, shouting:" Oh my God! My God! & # 39; "

But Gingrich said: "This is not a time of crisis for Trump or the party." Remember, we thought we had Clinton on the ropes, but Clinton continued to smile and his popularity increased. "

The White House is trying to defend its hard supporters on Capitol Hill as its political side, especially the home Republicans like Mark Meadows (NC), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Devin Nunes (Calif.), Who are frequent guests on Fox News Channel. In January, Jordan and Nunes will be high-level Republicans, respectively, in the House Supervisory Committee and in the Restricted Intelligence Commission, positioning them as public faces of Trump's defense and antagonists of the Justice Department's leadership.

Republicans close to new minority leader at home Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) They said there is an intimate understanding that Jordan and Meadows and others in their orbit they will be more vocal, but many degrees Republicans and ranks, trying to keep their seats, will try to avoid being overwhelmed in the stall of the probe, as they did for over a year.

"Among most House Republicans, the feeling is," We're ready to get it over with, we're not nervous, but we're tired of Mueller, "Meadows said.

But Democrats say they are determined not to let investigations end prematurely. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Who sits in the Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, said: "Our job is to protect the president's investigation – whether it is to dismiss Mueller, intimidate the witness or hinder the investigation ".

Trump's critics, such as retired senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) – who sponsored legislation that would have protected Mueller but was largely ignored by his colleagues – warned that Trump's loyalist drummer in Congress, along with relentless clashes between the president and Mueller, cradled republicans in a dangerous place.

"It's like the party was a frog that boils slowly in the water, conditioned by not being worried, not thinking too much about what's going on around them," Flake said. "They feel at a loss about what to do because it's the president's party, without a doubt, there are many boos these days."

Giuliani rejected Flake's criticism in the same way he and the president hired Mueller – with a barbed-type attack rather than a measured refutation.

"He's a bitter and bitter man," said Giuliani di Flake. "He's sick, nobody likes him and wants him to leave."

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