Firestorm over Comey’s dismissal adds to Trump frustrations

 

Associated Press

By JULIE PACE and JONATHAN LEMIRE, Associated Press3 hrs ago
Liver transplant recipient left homeless after Colo. hailstorm
In this May 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to military mothers in the East Room of the White House during Mother's Day celebration. Four months into office, Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)© The Associated Press In this May 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to military mothers in the East Room of the White House during Mother’s Day celebration. Four months into office, Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)WASHINGTON (AP) — After four months in office, President Donald Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel.

Trump’s frustrations came to a head this week with the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the probe into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling. Fearful that his own team would leak the decision, Trump kept key staff in the dark as he pondered the dramatic move.

The communications staff charged with explaining the decision to the American people had an hour’s notice. Chief strategist Steve Bannon learned on television, according to three White House officials, though a person close to Bannon disputed that characterization.

When the White House’s defense of the move failed to meet his ever-changing expectations, Trump tried to take over himself. But he wound up creating new headaches for the White House, including with an apparent threat to Comey.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

For a White House accustomed to bouts of chaos, Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing could have serious and long-lasting implications. Already Trump’s decision appears to have emboldened the Senate intelligence committee investigating Russia’s election interference and the president’s associates, with lawmakers announcing a subpoena for former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey’s allies also quickly made clear they would defend him against attacks from Trump, including disputing the president’s assertion that Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staffers. He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard. Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Comey and was tapped by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.

Trump confidants say Bannon has been marginalized on major decisions, including Comey’s firing, after clashing with Kushner. And while Trump praised chief of staff Reince Priebus after the House passed a health care bill last week, associates say the president has continued to raise occasional questions about Priebus’ leadership in the West Wing. Still, Priebus was among the tight circle of staffers Trump consulted about Comey’s firing.

Trump spent most of the week out of sight, a marked change from a typically jam-packed schedule that often includes multiple on-camera events per day. Even when aides moved ahead on an executive order creating a voter fraud commission — a presidential pet project that some advisers thought they had successfully shelved — Trump signed the directive in private.

More than a lack of momentum on major policy goals, Trump is said to be seething over the flood of leaks pouring out of the White House and into news reports. He’s viewed even senior advisers suspiciously, including Bannon and Priebus, when stories about internal White House drama land in the press.

A dozen White House officials and others close to Trump detailed the president’s decision-making and his mood on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations and deliberations.

After Trump decided to fire Comey, he was told by aides that Democrats would likely react positively to the news, given the role many believe Comey played in Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year. When the opposite occurred, Trump grew incensed — both at Democrats and his own communications staff for not quickly lining up more Republicans to defend him on television.

Much of Trump’s ire has been focused on the communications team, all of whom were caught off guard by Comey’s ouster. He increasingly sees himself as the White House’s only effective spokesperson, according to multiple people who have spoken with him. By week’s end, he was musing about cutting back on the White House’s televised press briefings.

Two White House officials said some of Trump’s frustration centers on what he views as unfair coverage of his decisions and overly harsh criticism of press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, who led much of the response to Comey’s firing. Aides said Trump does not believe his team gave contradictory stories about his decision to fire Comey, despite the fact that the White House’s explanation changed dramatically over a 48-hour period.

The White House initially said Trump was compelled to fire Comey by a critical memo from the deputy attorney general on the director’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Aides later said the president had been considering firing Comey for months, and Trump said he would have made the decision regardless of the Justice Department recommendation.

“The challenge they have is that the president sometimes moves so rapidly that they don’t get a team around that gets it organized,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Trump ally. “He’s a little bit like a quarterback that gets ahead of his offensive line.”

Trump is mulling expanding the communications team and has eyed hiring producers from Fox News, according to one White House official.

White House officials had hoped last week’s House vote would give the president a much-needed burst of momentum and infuse new energy into efforts to fully overhaul the “Obamacare” health law and pass a massive tax reform package. Aides were also eager for Trump’s first foreign trip, a high-stakes blitz through the Middle East and Europe.

But the blowback from Comey’s firing left the White House reeling once again. Trump’s visible anger and erratic tweets prompted a reporter to ask Spicer on Friday if the president was “out of control.”

“That’s, frankly, offensive,” Spicer said.

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Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Jill Colvin and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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Follow Pace on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JPaceDC and Lemire at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire

Former Intelligence Director Clapper says Trump ‘assaulting’ US institutions (VIDEO)

Former Intelligence Director Clapper says Trump ‘assaulting’ US institutions (VIDEO)
Former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says the checks and balances in the US system are “eroding” because institutions are facing an internal assault from President Donald Trump.

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Clapper said that Trump’s sacking of FBI director James Comey has caused turmoil in intelligence circles.

“The developments of the past week are very bothersome, very disturbing to me,” Clapper said, before repeating claims that Russia interfered in last year’s US presidential election – something he has admitted there is no evidence of.

READ MORE: US ex-intel chief Clapper believes Russia-Trump claims, despite ‘no evidence to his knowledge’

“I think in many ways our institutions are under assault both externally, and that’s the big news here; Russian interference in our election system. And, as well, I think our institutions are under assault internally,” Clapper explained, prompting host Jake Tapper to ask “internally from the President?”

“Exactly,” Clapper responded, saying “the Founding Fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances and I feel as though that’s under assault and is eroding.”

Clapper handed in his resignation as National Intelligence Director shortly after Trump’s election victory in November. He officially left office on the day the new president moved into the White House.

His reign as intelligence chief was marred by fallout from inaccurate statements he made to Congress about the NSA’s data collection on American citizens. In March of 2013, he claimed that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect the data of Americans. A few months later, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing the agency’s exhaustive domestic data collection programs.

READ MORE: ‘Work for WikiLeaks’: Assange offers Comey job as Snowden condemns White House

The Obama-appointed former intelligence chief said Sunday that Comey’s firing has had a palpably negative impact on the morale of the intelligence community. “People are very upset about the way he was treated,” he claimed.

Clapper added that he had exchanged emails with the former FBI director, but declined to divulge what they discussed.

On Fmr. DNI Clapper says he “would hope” that US Intel Community would be aware of WH tapes

Clapper also addressed the issue of secret White House taping devices, a prospect Trump raised in the aftermath of Comey’s firing.

When asked if intelligence agencies would know about such devices, Clapper responded: “I can’t say, I would hope so. Certainly, from a security standpoint if nothing else. I don’t believe there was one in the administration I served in, I certainly can’t comment [on the current administration].”

More victims expected in unprecedented cyberattack as users log on Monday

An unprecedented global “ransomware” attack has hit at least 100,000 organizations in 150 countries, Europe’s police agency said Sunday — and predicted that more damage may be seen Monday as people return to work and switch on their computers.

The attack that began Friday is believed to be the biggest online extortion attack ever recorded, spreading chaos by locking computers that run Britain’s hospital network, Germany’s national railway and scores of other companies, factories and government agencies worldwide.

Steven Wilson, Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, told Sky News that it was now important that IT departments checked their systems on Monday morning to ensure they had not been compromised.

He added: “It’s not a massively sophisticated attack. What is new is the use of a worm to propagate through systems.

“It is beyond anything we have seen before.”

NATIONS BATTLE CYBERATTACK DAMAGES; UK FOCUSES ON HOSPITALS

Wilson spoke as hospitals in the United Kingdom were beginning to get back to normal, although some were still experiencing problems after the global attack which hit 48 National Health Service trusts in England and 13 Scottish health boards, according to Sky News.

President Donald Trump ordered his homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, to hold an emergency meeting Friday night to assess the threat posed by the cyberattack, senior administration official told Reuters.

Senior security staff held another meeting in the White House Situation Room on Saturday, and the FBI and National Security Agency were trying to identify the perpetrators of the massive cyber attack, said the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity to the news agency to discuss internal deliberations.

Security experts warned that further cyberattacks are likely.

“The global reach is unprecedented and beyond what we have seen before,” Rob Wainwright, director of the Netherlands-based Europol said Sunday “The latest count is over 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries, and those victims, many of those will be businesses, including large corporations.”

“At the moment, we are in the face of an escalating threat. The numbers are going up,” he added. “I am worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn on their machines on Monday morning.”

Jan Op Gen Oorth, spokesman for Europol, said the number of individuals who have fallen victim to the cyberextortion attack could be much higher.

Wainwright said the attack was indiscriminate, fast-spreading and unique, because the ransomware was being used in combination with a worm, which means the infection of one computer automatically could spread it through a whole network.

22-YEAR-OLD CYBERSECURITY RESEARCHER HELPED THWART UNPRECEDENTED CYBERATTACK

The Europol spokesman said it was too early to say who is behind the onslaught and what their motivation was. The main challenge for investigators was the fast-spreading capabilities of the malware, he said, adding that so far not many people have paid the ransoms that the virus demands.

The effects were felt across the globe, with Russia’s Interior Ministry and companies including Spain’s Telefonica, FedEx Corp. in the U.S. and French carmaker Renault all reporting disruptions.

Had it not been for a young cybersecurity researcher’s accidental discovery of a so-called “kill switch,” the malicious software likely would have spread much farther and faster. Security experts say this attack should wake up every corporate board room and legislative chamber around the globe.

Nonetheless, the experts say such widespread attacks are
tough to pull off.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  

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