For several reasons, the White House is unlikely to shake off the Russian drama in the short term
The White House has often seemed unable to coordinate its efforts to limit damage
The mystery over Donald Trump and Russia is taking a corrosive hold on his presidency, fanning media coverage and sowing accusations that threaten to overwhelm his White House and drain his credibility.
Washington has become something of a hall of mirrors, where it’s difficult to distinguish between rumor and fact as conspiracy theories and partisan paroxysms rage. Fifty-five percent of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned by reports that some connected to the Trump campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives, a new CNN/ORC poll shows.
Further, the poll shows two-thirds of Americans say a special prosecutor should investigate contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates, including 43% of Republicans, 82% of Democrats and 67% of independents.
The White House is finding it impossible to put to rest claims that it has had improper ties to Russia. Often, Trump himself reignites the drama, as with his sensational claim Saturday that his predecessor, Barack Obama, tapped his phones.
Congress, meanwhile, is becoming consumed by gossip and hearsay, while a constant stream of disclosures about Trump associates’ contacts with Russian officials feed high-wattage news stories.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will gain access this week to the “raw intelligence” relevant to Congress’ probe of Russia’s role in the presidential election, Sen. Chris Coons said Monday.
The Delaware Democrat told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” that he did not expect the information to become public but that it is a welcome step for members who had asked more than a dozen agencies, organizations and individuals to preserve communications related to the investigation into Russian interference.
With the intrigue over Russia, the election and the new administration only deepening, it has the potential to distract the White House and the machinery of the US government for months.
Furthermore, ethical, political and personality dynamics at play at the top of the administration – and incentives for Trump’s enemies to prolong the sense of scandal – are complicating the White House’s effort to move on.
Only one thing is clear in the fog of accusations and allegations: If the goal of Russia’s alleged intelligence swoop was to pit Washington’s centers of power against one another, to foment political chaos and to cast doubt on the functioning of US democracy itself, it is working better than anyone in Moscow likely hoped.
“We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement on Saturday.
Questions focus on Russia meetings
Questions clouding the White House revolve around extensive meetings between prominent Russian officials and members of the Trump orbit and whether there was coordination between them at a time when US intelligence agencies assessed the Kremlin was trying to interfere in the election.
As it stands, an FBI probe into whether such contacts were improper is under way. Several congressional investigations into alleged Russian hacking operations designed to influence the election are also being conducted.
In the latest developments, the position of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been called into question after he failed to disclose to Congress two contacts he had with the Russian ambassador to the US.
The former Alabama senator said, however, that the meetings took place in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not his role as an adviser to the Trump campaign.
On Thursday, Sessions recused himself from oversight duties related to investigations into the Trump campaign involving the Department of Justice.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer insists that there is “no there there” in the Russia intrigue. But the conduct of the President himself often undercuts that message.
The White House called Sunday for an investigation into “reports” that Obama ordered wiretaps on Trump. But other than an opinion piece on the conservative website Breitbart, it was not clear what reports it was referring to.
On ABC News “This Week,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to suggest that the BBC and The New York Times had reported on charges that Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower phones.
On Sunday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that no intelligence agencies he supervised wiretapped Trump, nor did the FBI obtain a court order through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor Trump’s phones. Still, Trump’s claims, delivered via Twitter early Saturday morning, appear to have given the Russia controversy new legs.
“He just put another quarter in the conspiracy parking meter, they have extended this story for a week, two weeks,” former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.