The White House is grappling for a strategy to push back against revelations about contact between the president’s son Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMaryland restaurant adds burger mocking Trump Jr. to menu Free Kevin Hassett! Trump pick a victim of Dems’ obstruction Fox News’s Bolling: Trump Jr. Russia story ‘fizzled like a wet bottle rocket’ MORE Jr. and a Russian lawyer whom he believed to have damaging information about Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSanders backs former NAACP head in Maryland gov race Maryland restaurant adds burger mocking Trump Jr. to menu Fox News’s Bolling: Trump Jr. Russia story ‘fizzled like a wet bottle rocket’ MORE.
Team Trump has been rocked by the revelations, which have cast serious doubt on earlier denials of communication between Russia and the Trump campaign last year.
The furor has also struck close to home for staff who have begun to worry about their own legal jeopardy, according to one Republican with close ties to the White House.
“Not only does it suck out the oxygen from everything else they are doing, but it also threatens the ability of White House staffers to function normally because many of them are wondering if they need to be getting lawyers,” the source said.
The broader issue for the White House is how to gain traction in the wake of the publication of a June 2016 email chain between Trump Jr. and music publicist Rob Goldstone. Trump Jr. published those emails on his Twitter feed on Tuesday morning, moments before The New York Times published a story about them.
In the emails, Goldstone wrote to the president’s eldest son suggesting that a Russian lawyer would be willing and able to share incriminating information on Clinton.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone wrote.
Trump Jr. replied 17 minutes later, writing in part, “If it’s what you say I love it.”
President Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to hit back. He praised his son for doing “a good job” in a TV interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on Tuesday night.
He also blasted the “fake media” for what he said was the use of imaginary sources.
Thirdly, Trump hit at Clinton and the Democratic Party, condemning what he said were double-standards.
But even some Republicans suggested that those jabs were not going to turn the tide.
“It’s all greatest hits bullshit,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP strategist who is a long-standing Trump critic. “It’s bait for the people who love him and it is going to appeal to those folks alone. For everyone else, the administration is paralyzed from its own actions. Nothing is getting done.”
Still, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders amplified the line of attack against the Clintons during Wednesday’s media briefing.
Asked by CBS News’ Major Garrett about “this plague of amnesia” that Garrett said had afflicted people around Trump about contacts with Russians, Sanders denied any lack of transparency.
“Look, I think if you want to talk about having relationships with Russia, I’d look no further than the Clintons,” she said. “Bill ClintonBill ClintonAmerica, don’t shy away from a bold missile shield OPINION | Kushner is safe if White House contains scandal, but can it? The Memo: White House searches for strategy on Russia MORE was paid half a million dollars to give a speech to a Russian bank, personally thanked by President Putin.”
Sanders was referring to a 2010 speech the former president delivered at a seminar staged by Renaissance Capital, which has been described by the New York Times as “a Russian investment bank with ties to the Kremlin.”
Trump’s attacks on the media and Democrats will work “among his core base of support,” said Dan Judy, who worked with the 2016 campaign of one of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Memo: White House searches for strategy on Russia The impact of Trump’s Cuba policy revisions will likely be small Demystifying the foggy haze of Federal Reserve policymaking MORE (Fla.).
“That has served him well to this point. It is one of the biggest reasons why he got elected,” Judy said. “So at least in the short term, it will likely continue to be effective among a certain group.”
Trump’s approval rating has been low but steady in the daily Gallup tracking poll, which has found between 37 percent and 40 percent of adults nationwide approving of his job performance since late last month.
The Gallup poll and others will be scrutinized for any evidence of slippage among Trump’s supporters in the days to come. But Trump defenders and critics alike believe that his hardcore support is resilient.
In Trump’s immediate vicinity, however, the atmosphere is one of recrimination and suspicion, according to the Republican with ties to the White House.
The source said that fingers were being pointed over who had allowed the information regarding Trump Jr.’s dealings with the Russian lawyer and Goldstone to leak to The New York Times.
More broadly, the source added, the worry at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is that the new revelations “open the door” to even worse news to come — and to new legal jeopardy.
“It feels like a Pandora’s Box,” the person said.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.