Changing strategy, the White House goes mum on Comey memo
WASHINGTON — Rocked by days of damaging developments, President Donald Trump’s White House is looking ahead to the president’s upcoming foreign trip — and trying to get his plane in the air with as little additional turbulence as possible.
The White House has been notably mum since the latest bombshell news report came out Tuesday afternoon, alleging that Trump had personally appealed to FBI Director James Comey to abandon the bureau’s investigation into then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In a departure from past firestorms, top aides did not appear on television to rebut the claims, and Trump did not respond on Twitter. Instead the only comment came in the form of a brief written denial. The lone adviser to appear on TV afterward, Sebastian Gorka on Fox News’ Sean Hannity show, called it “dishonest news” and then spoke at length about the need to hunt down leakers.
And while the president has been talking with outside advisers about the need to make personnel changes in the White House, an administration official said any potential shake-ups are on hold as his top advisers take an all-hands approach to preparing for a trip that begins Friday and seeing that his jam-packed agenda goes as planned.
The quietude — for now — is no accident. Another administration official said the White House is trying a new lower-profile approach.
The official said aides are seeking to avoid a repeat of the critical coverage of White House statements in recent days. The credibility of the White House has come under attack, as aides have delivered false or misleading statements or aggressively argued points that the president later contradicted.
Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Asked about the memo and a shift in strategy on Air Force One Wednesday, press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly pointed to the statement, declining to elaborate. “The White House has put out a statement very clearly with our account,” he said.
For now, Trump seems to be sticking with the approach, accepting the advice of his aides and fighting his instinct to punch back. In the past he has railed against his staff for failing to vigorously defend him and flood television stations with supportive voices.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that President Trump in February urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation of one of his campaign aide’s connections to Russia, in a meeting a day after the president fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying about his contacts with Russians. John Yang learns more about the revelation from Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times.
During a graduation speech at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, Trump complained about media coverage, though he did not address the specific report or mention Comey by name. He said no president “has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
On Friday, Trump leaves on an ambitious five-stop trip through the Middle Eeast and Europe that many advisers see as an opportunity to reset after weeks of negative headlines.
Republicans outside the White House also hope the trip provides some breathing room from scandal.
“The problem is all of this stuff here at home is going to follow him overseas,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “My advice to him is just stay disciplined, stay focused and deliver on the world stage.”
He added, “He’s probably glad to leave town, and a lot of us are glad he’s leaving for a few days.”
AP writer Julie Bykowicz contributed from Washington.