Team Trump still divided over decision to release Ukraine transcript
When President Donald Trump declared in September he hoped the world would read his phone call with Ukraine's President, some of his advisers cringed. The transcript, they believed, would not provide the instant vindication Trump hoped, CNN reports.
One month, more than a dozen witnesses and a formal vote on impeachment proceedings later, the move is still a sore spot. Some aides wonder why the transcript was released at all. And the document's rollout has been viewed in some corners as a disaster.
But if the resentments are still percolating, the precedent was set. As the impeachment crisis enters a new phase, Trump has established himself as the sole architect of his defense. Instead of working to craft a coherent strategy, officials are now aiming simply to adapt to the President's lead.
"He is the war room," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Friday on Fox News, dismissing the suggestion a more robust defense effort be mounted since Trump, she said, was innocent. "We don't feel the need for a war room and we'll see what happens."
A year away from his election reckoning, Trump this week became the fourth US president subjected to formal House impeachment investigation opened by vote. A string of witnesses, some still working at the White House, have come forward to the investigative committees to detail what they describe as concerning behavior toward Ukraine.
At the White House and Trump campaign headquarters, the impeachment developments have become all-consuming. A half-hearted attempt to wall off the matter inside the West Wing has largely been abandoned. Policy items the President once hoped to complete this fall, such as drug price reforms and some type of gun control action, have been put aside.
Some of Trump's allies, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have encouraged him to leave the impeachment matter to lawyers and communications specialists. Instead of trying to ignore the matter, however, aides say they are following the lead of the President, who has railed against impeachment at nearly every public appearance since September and tweets about it every day.
In private, Trump has raised the proceedings in meetings with evangelical leaders, lawmakers and others, who came to the White House to discuss other issues but found themselves listening to Trump vent about the situation.
Even Trump's daughter Ivanka, who has favored a narrow set of policy issues over contentious political talk, made a reference to the fight on Twitter this week.
Asked Friday who was quarterbacking the President's impeachment efforts, adviser Kellyanne Conway said it was the President himself. She insisted he and the rest of the White House was focused on a governing agenda, despite the Democratic impeachment effort.
"You know the answer: the President," she said. "We have many people working on that, but we have overstuffed portfolios here to begin with working on the business of America which does not include impeachment."
Itching to mount a loud self-defense, Trump told aides he wants to appear at more political rallies where he can argue his innocence at length to adoring crowds. The campaign has scheduled a series of events over the next few weeks, with three this week alone. The White House has also planned official events, though those often devolve into rally-like speeches.
The schedule is seen as a chance for the President to trumpet his message while stumping for gubernatorial candidates. Over the next week, he's due to appear at rallies in Louisiana and Kentucky, and spoke Friday evening in Mississippi.
"The media and the Democrats have been engaged in a corrupt partnership trying to impose their will and to thwart American democracy," he said in Tupelo, where he was stumping ahead of a gubernatorial election. "This is one I never thought I'd be involved in, the word 'impeachment.' "