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What it was like to be in the White House when the first Mueller indictments came down

Since the unsealing of criminal charges and pleas as part of the Russia investigation, the White House has distanced itself from Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. But how did President Trump and White House officials react behind the scenes? Judy Woodruff learns more from Ashley Parker of the Washington Post.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to yesterday’s legal developments.

    With the unsealing of criminal charges and pleas, Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may have entered a new phase. In public, the White House has distanced itself from Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, but how are the president and White House officials reacting behind the scenes?

    Ashley Parker of The Washington Post has been reporting on al this. And she joins me now.

    So, Ashley, I think you and your colleagues said in your story that you talked to 20-some White House aides. What is the sense you’re getting from them of their handling — how they’re handling this, how they react to this?

  • Ashley Parker:

    One thing that was striking was that the West Wing aides and the president himself were finding out the way sort of we were and the rest of America was, which was basically from news reports.

    So we sort of got to see the president processing that as it happened. So, for instance, after the first pair of indictments came down for Manafort and Gates, there were two feelings. One was, the president kind of felt vindicated. He felt, you know, look, these guys are being looked into for alleged behavior that largely predates my campaign.

    The indictment didn’t mention his name. It didn’t mention any possible collusion between his campaign and Russia. So, he sort of tweets out a kind of frustrated, but “this isn’t my issue, there’s no collusion” tweet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Ashley Parker:

    And then that next indictment comes down for George Papadopoulos, which is potentially more problematic. And, again, he uses the, as the White House has said, as you just said, he’s someone who was an unpaid volunteer. He wasn’t super senior.

    But that — he definitely touches Russia in a way that those people in the first indictment didn’t.

  • Judy Woodruff: 

    I noticed that the story quoted some in the White House — I think it — well, it was the president’s attorney Ty Cobb, saying that the president is just continuing his business as usual. He’s not getting distracted by this.

    But then the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, said in an interview last night on FOX News that the president is distracted.

    So, which is it do you think?

  • Ashley Parker:

    I think you can argue that it’s business as usual, only in the sense that Russia has dogged this president and this White House since almost the very first day.

    But, look, I think he was frustrated. We were told that he is frustrated not because he thinks he did anything wrong, but for precisely the opposite reason. He feels like he did absolutely nothing wrong and he doesn’t understand why this just won’t go away and he keeps on getting dragged down.

    We reported that this is a guy who lives above the shop, so to speak. He stayed up in his residence longer than usual watching kind of TV, talking to his lawyers, growing frustrated, but also sort of thinking in terms of like a crisis communications manager, a legal analyst, before coming down to work in the Oval Office.

    But then, by all accounts, while he was there during the day, I heard from people that there were a number of meetings, and this didn’t come up at all in the sort of pre- or post-meeting chatter. So I think the answer is, the truth lies in the middle somewhere.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just very quickly, Ashley, what are you hearing about any potential presidential pardon?

  • Ashley Parker:

    So, the White House and the president’s lawyers have said recently that this is something that is not at all on his mind. It’s not something he’s planning to do.

    But our reporting from several weeks ago showed that the president had asked about precisely this. So, we know the president is sort of interested in understanding the full range of his pardon powers. That doesn’t mean that, as of today, he’s prepared to use them, but we know, with President Trump, that could change in a second.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ashley Parker, reporting to on the White House for The Washington Post, thank you.

  • Ashley Parker:

    Thank you.

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