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White House meltdown on full display

The tumult of the past week has fueled a deep and seething anger within ...

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 2:35 AM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 2:35 AM

The tumult of the past week has fueled a deep and seething anger within President Donald Trump -- not an uncommon emotion for the insolent commander in chief -- but one that allies and aides say has escalated as he faces a new gauntlet of problems, including the encroaching Russia investigation.

His soothing communications guru is leaving. His obstinate attorney general has turned openly defiant. His son-in-law and senior adviser was stripped of his security clearance at the behest of his chief of staff. His Cabinet secretaries keep spending an inordinate amount of taxpayer dollars on luxuries. His most loyal allies in Congress describe his meetings as "surreal."

Allies of Trump's on Capitol Hill and elsewhere describe a sense of "meltdown" at the White House as the series of unfortunate events unfold. The President, they say, wants to take action to turn the page.

Morale in the West Wing, already diminished following the domestic abuse scandal involving Trump's former staff secretary, has taken a downward turn, people inside and outside the building say. Staff departures are being announced on a near-daily basis as aides become fed up with the constant swirl of tension.

And policy announcements that would fulfill Trump's campaign promises -- including a long-awaited decision on steel and aluminum tariffs, gun control measures and an elusive immigration fix -- have been caught up in the swirl of uncertainty, leading to questions on how Trump will be able to govern amid the chaos.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, chief of staff John Kelly was taciturn but upbeat when asked about the mood inside the White House.

"I think pretty good," he said. "Too much work, too hard. We're all doing the Lord's work though."

Others are less glowing.

"The morale is terrible," said Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived former communications director, said on Thursday morning on CNN. "The reason why the morale is terrible is that the rule by fear and intimidation does not work in a civilian environment."

"People are afraid to talk to each other," he said.

Inside the White House

Inside the White House, aides identify the scandal involving Rob Porter, the staff secretary who departed after being accused of domestic abuse allegations, as the impetus for the latest devolvement in esteem. At the time of his departure, Porter was dating Hope Hicks, the communications director who announced her resignation on Wednesday.

Hicks' departure was weeks in the making, people familiar with the decision said. But it was nevertheless a shock announcement from the aide perhaps closest to the President.

"Trump can't function without her. She is that important," a source close to the White House said.

Advisers wonder now who will step into the role of presidential whisperer -- a job ever more important as stumbling blocks continue to arise, including the mounting stack of indictments in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Trump continues to describe the probe as a "witch hunt," and steams over the issue regularly. His anger is bolstered by the deep sense of uncertainty surrounding who will be caught up next. Mueller's team has operated largely leak-free, and much of the news from his office has caught the White House off-guard.

The Porter episode also led to scrutiny over the system of security clearances and questions over accountability at top staff levels. It launched John Kelly's crackdown on interim security clearances, which last week ensnared Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with dozens of other White House officials.

The move only heightened the existing friction between Kelly and Trump's children, who have seen their access to the President restricted under a new system of rigor. Kushner has continued in his role, focusing on domestic issues like prison reform and planning for upcoming political races. Trump has told aides he wants Kushner to remain focused on the Middle East.

But the President has grown upset at the perception his son-in-law is somehow in trouble, and has complained to people around him how Kelly can't seem to stop making enemies.

Trump-Sessions feud

Kelly isn't the only underling in Trump's sights. The President was fuming Wednesday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly pushed back against him in a rare but pointed statement defending the Justice Department. Sessions' pushback came after Trump called him "DISGRACEFUL" in a Twitter post.

A source familiar with his demeanor described Trump as indignant. Trump didn't respond to shouted questions about Sessions at the White House on Thursday. Later, when she was asked whether Trump wanted to dismiss his attorney general, press secretary Sarah Sanders only said: "Not that I know of."

The sense of an administration at odds was fueled by another Cabinet secretary coming under public scrutiny -- this time Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Senior White House aides are furious about a series of negative stories about frivolous spending at Carson's agency and have taken a more hands-on role in trying to stem the tide of negative news, sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN.

The decision to assert more control came a day after reports that the former chief administrative officer at HUD filed a complaint saying she was demoted after refusing to spend more than was legally allowed to redecorate Carson's new office. HUD also spent $31,000 last year to replace a dining room set in Carson's office, according to federal records and a whistleblower. Carson has now said he wants to cancel the order.

It was the latest example of a spending indiscretion by one of Trump's Cabinet officials -- incidents that have enraged the President. He fired Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price for excessive use of private and government air travel over the summer. But since then, the travel habits of a number of Cabinet-level officials have come into question.

Trump has vented to aides that there's nothing he detests more than displays of wasteful spending. But firing top-level officials, he's speculated, would only deepen the impression his administration is in chaos.

Instead, Trump is encouraging his team to develop policy announcements that could help distract from the ongoing ruckus. On Thursday he was eager to announce protectionist measures to buffer the US steel and aluminum industries from foreign imports -- fulfilling a key campaign promise on which he's fixated over the past year.

The only problem: the policy he wanted to roll out isn't ready yet, two White House officials said. Aides were sent scrambling late Wednesday to determine what exactly Trump could announce during a meeting with industry executives that was hastily assembled for Thursday morning.

Initially the meeting was closed to the press. But Trump called in reporters at the last minute to announce he was imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum "probably" next week.

"It's being written now," Trump said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 486434

Reported Deaths: 6575
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1009131586
Ramsey43165803
Dakota36375392
Anoka33335388
Washington22121258
Stearns18752201
St. Louis14822263
Scott13308107
Wright12538116
Olmsted1181788
Sherburne874172
Carver775640
Clay692387
Rice670791
Blue Earth596635
Kandiyohi579674
Crow Wing521282
Chisago499545
Otter Tail483270
Benton447790
Winona418549
Mower405731
Douglas393368
Nobles387247
Goodhue386269
Polk343763
McLeod340049
Beltrami338651
Morrison324747
Itasca313646
Lyon313644
Becker312542
Isanti306756
Steele301511
Carlton300149
Freeborn282623
Pine282016
Nicollet259241
Todd248330
Brown245537
Le Sueur235720
Mille Lacs227947
Cass220424
Waseca209317
Meeker207434
Martin189928
Wabasha18673
Roseau180317
Hubbard160740
Houston157414
Dodge15294
Renville150340
Redwood147027
Fillmore13768
Chippewa136735
Pennington136316
Cottonwood135020
Wadena131020
Faribault123417
Aitkin119033
Watonwan11758
Sibley117310
Rock115914
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101624
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9488
Jackson93610
Swift87918
Pope8075
Marshall78015
Lake74218
Stevens7418
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68516
Wilkin67411
Koochiching61911
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5092
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3075
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 335218

Reported Deaths: 5443
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk51785551
Linn19463313
Scott17080210
Black Hawk14924292
Woodbury13778212
Johnson1312174
Dubuque12416194
Dallas1019092
Pottawattamie9828143
Story959345
Warren511674
Clinton500784
Cerro Gordo498882
Webster494487
Sioux479169
Marshall463072
Des Moines427161
Muscatine424191
Buena Vista412237
Wapello4025108
Jasper386266
Plymouth367478
Lee354252
Marion339869
Jones284654
Henry279637
Bremer268754
Carroll266349
Crawford252235
Boone242830
Benton240354
Washington239047
Mahaska215246
Jackson209738
Dickinson202440
Tama202365
Kossuth198055
Delaware185540
Clay183825
Winneshiek182827
Fayette178635
Page177819
Buchanan176929
Wright173831
Hamilton173742
Cedar171523
Hardin169439
Harrison167169
Clayton159854
Butler158831
Mills147920
Floyd147741
Poweshiek147730
Lyon145541
Cherokee145336
Allamakee142347
Madison141918
Iowa139423
Hancock137630
Grundy132030
Winnebago130231
Calhoun129311
Cass128751
Jefferson128334
Appanoose123147
Louisa122341
Mitchell120440
Chickasaw119615
Union118731
Sac118318
Shelby116433
Emmet115040
Humboldt113525
Franklin109019
Guthrie108928
Palo Alto100921
Howard99021
Montgomery96736
Clarke94720
Keokuk92029
Monroe89428
Adair81028
Ida81032
Pocahontas80919
Davis76323
Monona76327
Greene72910
Lucas71421
Osceola68215
Worth6667
Taylor64112
Decatur5699
Fremont5599
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50520
Audubon4739
Wayne45821
Adams3184
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