Donald Trump is considering a major purge of his top White House staff as he searches for a “huge reboot” following the most damaging week of his presidential term, political sources in Washington said on Sunday night.
Taken aback by the fallout from his sudden dismissal of James Comey, the FBI director, and on the hunt for someone to blame, the president was said to be toying with firing senior allies, from Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, to Sean Spicer, his combative press secretary.
“He’s frustrated, and angry at everyone,” one confidant told Mike Allen, the leading political journalist, adding that the president was thinking about “going big” with his response. “The question now is how big and how bold.”
The Trump administration is facing questions over why the president decided to remove Comey, the top official leading the inquiry into allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia during the election.
Democrats kept up the pressure on Sunday, with leading politicians warning that they may refuse to vote on the nomination of a new FBI director, who would have to be confirmed by the Senate, until a special prosecutor was appointed.
“To have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief, because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director,” Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader told CNN.
And there were mounting calls, including from Republicans, for Trump to turn over any tapes of his conversations with Comey, after the president suggested he may have a secretly recorded them.
Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called Trump’s suggestion “outrageous” and said it was reminiscent of the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced former president Richard Nixon to resign.
Lindsay Graham, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, who has previously defended Trump, said this was not a matter to be “cute” with.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
“If there’s tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over,” he said. Adding that Trump’s tweet alleging the recordings “inappropriate”.
The turmoil is said to be no less bitter inside the White House. Informed sources said Trump has been stewing all week, personally interrogating aides as he investigates how each and every negative headline in the media came to light.
He is said to be particularly angry at his communications office and has spoken candidly with advisers about a broad shake-up that could include demotions or dismissals.
The president is increasingly of the opinion that he needs a more ferocious defender than Spicer has been, some sources said.
In a sign of the strains, Trump reportedly did not inform Spicer, or Mike Dubke his communications director, of his decision to fire Comey until about an hour before it was announced.
In the immediate aftermath of Comey’s sacking, White House aides scrambled to come up with a rationale for the sacking, which was later apparently contradicted by Trump.
Frantic at the Watergate comparisons in the media coverage, Trump sought to handle the crisis himself, giving interviews and sending out a flurry of tweets that undercut his staff’s accounts of events.
White House insiders have described morale in the West Wing as low, with aides who are not required to engage with the president keeping their office doors closed.
Many are said to feel let down by the president’s behaviour; frustrated at his willingness to put out statements that suddenly undercut pre-agreed media narratives and leave them looking like “liars and fools” one source said.
“There is nothing more discouraging or embarrassing for a spokesman than to have your boss contradict you. In political communications, you’re only as good as your credibility,” Alex Conant, a Republican strategist said in an interview with the New York Times.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and an ally of Trump’s said the president “resembles a quarterback who doesn’t call a huddle and gets ahead of his offensive line so nobody can block him and defend him because nobody knows what the play is”.
“But it minimizes the ability of the presidency to both protect him from mistakes and to maximize his strengths,” said Gingrich, who is working on a biography of Trump.
“At some point, I hope he’s going to learn that taking one extra day, having the entire team lined up. I don’t think he always helps himself. I think 10 percent less Trump would be a hundred percent more effective.”
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