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Trump to weigh options for looming White House staff shakeup

WASHINGTON — As his administration braces to absorb the impact of a special counsel’s investigation into his ties to Russia, President Donald Trump is preparing to consider a range of options to re-focus — and potentially restructure — his White House team once he returns home from a whirlwind trip abroad. 

As early as this weekend, Mr. Trump will be presented options to create new rapid response messaging teams both inside and outside the White House, aimed solely at responding to the investigation, multiple sources confirmed to CBS News. 

One idea under consideration, according to a GOP source close to the White House, is the formation of an outside group to handle all Russia-related inquiries, freeing up the existing communications team inside the White House to focus on moving Mr. Trump’s governing agenda forward.

A robust surrogate operation, mostly lacking to date, is likely to be run by the external group as well. With a few exceptions, the White House has so far lacked external defenders appearing on television and in news stories. 

Mr. Trump has also been speaking to campaign advisers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, though its unclear if they will play a formal role in the communications shakeup. Lewandowski was Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, and Bossie served as deputy campaign manager.

CBS News also confirmed one looming shakeup that is bound to eliminate some source of drama among staffers. Leakers of classified information at the White House have been identified and will be fired. Their terminations are currently being processed, sources said. 

“You have no idea how paranoid it makes people,” a White House official said of the rampant leaking. 

Mr. Trump has also retained prominent New York attorney Marc Kasowitz as outside counsel to help him navigate the Russia investigation, sources confirmed to CBS News. 

“The inside-outside effort needs to take a page from Clinton’s operation when they were battling Monica Lewinsky,” the GOP source close to the White House said. “They had an internal mechanism to direct all calls and incoming [questions] to a crisis containment center, in order to use the communications office — the White House press office —  as offense.” 

“At the same time, they had a surrogate operation to have their voices heard. That’s what needs to happen on the reactive side,” the source added. 

During Justice Neil Gorsuch’s smooth Supreme Court confirmation process, the White House implemented a similar professionalized operation. Outside consultants working on behalf of the White House handled rapid response and strategic communications for Gorsuch, a sharp contrast to some of the chaos emerging from the White House. 

Communications decisions could be made as early as this weekend, upon the president’s arrival back in Washington, D.C. 

Mr. Trump’s entry back into the D.C. ecosystem is likely to be a harsh one after a week of relatively positive headlines while abroad on his first overseas trip as president

Former House Speaker John Boehner called the administration “a complete disaster” on Thursday, and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is under intense scrutiny for contacts with Russian officials

With Congress about to slow down as it heads into summer, Mr. Trump will also step up efforts to communicate with voters more directly, going around the filter of the Washington media with more rallies and a renewed focus on local media markets where he can address his agenda without facing questions about Russia. 

“I can see that with the rally they have scheduled in Iowa,” an ally of the White House said on Friday, referring to a rally in the Hawkeye State that was scheduled for next week before being abruptly canceled Saturday. “Start using their previous campaign tactics inside the White House — rallies, Facebook lives, other unconventional opportunities because the way it’s going is not working.” 

The White House is seriously considering abandoning traditional White House press briefings as well. 

“Trump does not find value in them anymore,” a source close to the White House told CBS News. “While Spicer has high ratings, it’s difficult to get the message out to the clutter and it’s serving as a device to beat him up.” 

One consideration being thrown around is the possibility of Mr. Trump himself holding a press conference every two weeks and reducing Spicer’s press briefings down to once or twice a week. 

The futility of press briefings was on full display earlier this month. 

After the White House communications team spent several days telling reporters their boss had fired FBI director James Comey because of a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Trump shattered the narrative himself in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt. Mr. Trump said he was going to fire Comey “regardless of recommendation.” 

“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'” Mr. Trump said in the interview. 

Allies of the White House are stressing the need for legislative accomplishments from the administration while the investigation is ongoing — even if they are not big ticket initiatives like tax reform or health care. 

One Capitol Hill source described the priorities for GOP members in the coming months as “jobs, jobs, jobs.” 

The White House seems to have gotten the message. Next week, Mr. Trump will be focused on health care, and the month of June will be devoted to jobs, with an emphasis on an infrastructure plan that has been whispered about since Mr. Trump took office.


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