President Trump’s Russian troubles are multiplying — and even some Republicans are wondering if the White House can stop the problems from becoming a full-blown crisis.
“Facts are stubborn things. Bad ones in particular. You can’t ignore them. Wish them away. Or deny them,” said Lanny Davis, who served as special counsel for President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Davis is a columnist for The Hill and an expert in crisis management with Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper.
Davis said Trump could only bring the Russian travails to an end by observing the mantra of “tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself.”
“It’s coming out sooner or later. So you have no choice but to follow this advice and let the truth chips fall where they may,” he said.
In the absence of such a house-cleaning, however, the danger for the Trump administration is that it gets damaged by a constant stream of stories. Even if no single one is devastating, the cumulative effect could corrode the president’s standing.
There have been plenty examples just in recent days.
Details have emerged of a meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower that was attended by Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
Former campaign adviser Carter Page gave a contentious interview to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Thursday. On his own encounters with Kislyak, Page said, “I may have met him, possibly; might have been in Cleveland.”
And the Wall Street Journal reported that the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was “likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think-tank whose founder and wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.”
It may ultimately be the case, as the Trump administration insists, that there is nothing damning in the substance of these stories. People close to Trump feel they have been unfairly treated in the media maelstrom.
In an interview with The Hill last month, former Trump adviser Roger Stone insisted that allegations he had ties to Russia were false.
“I had no Russian contacts, no Russian intermediaries, no Russian clients, no Russian money. It’s a canard. It just doesn’t exist,” Stone said.
Trump’s original campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, on Friday pushed back vigorously against reports, which originated with a reporter for the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, that he had approved a trip to Russia by Page last summer.
“I’ve never met this person in my life,” Lewandowski told The Hill, referring to Page. “He never worked on our campaign when I was the campaign manager.”
Pressed on whether there could be any truth to the idea that he approved such a trip, Lewandowski replied, “Zero.”
But broader damage is already being done every day.
Wehner recalled his experiences in the Bush White House when a scandal erupted that ultimately saw Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, convicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
“There is pressure and there is tension. You never know what other people may have done when you’re in there,” Wehner recalled. “It’s not fun.”
More ominously, Wehner added that the ineffectiveness of the Trump White House in pushing back against stories related to Russia was stoking ever-greater suspicion.
“The bigger question is less how they have handled it from a communications standpoint — which is poorly — but why they have felt the need to handle it the way that they have,” he said.
“The reason, I suspect, is that there is quite a hot fire under the billows of smoke.”
Dezinformatsiya: You Ain’t “Seen Nothing Yet” from Russia
Russia’s information war with the West is about to heat up, says Ilan Berman in the Daily Beast. “We haven’t seen anything yet.”
Writing on the unveiling of a new “information operations” unit last month, Berman says the move “marks the culmination of a steady militarization of Russian propaganda. Once seen largely as a political strategy designed to shape foreign perceptions about Soviet (and later Russian) conduct abroad, disinformation (dezinformatsiya in Russian) has progressively taken on a distinctly martial character.”
“[T]he United States and its NATO allies should consider themselves to have officially been put on notice.”