Robert Costa’s Notebook: President Trump’s inner circle
By Robert Costa
A parade of political advisers and Cabinet officials in the Trump administration have come and gone.
As many of you know from watching “Washington Week,” the departures often seem to come on Fridays — and shake up our plans at the last minute. They’ve also shaken up the president’s inner circle, casting aside some players and bringing in new ones.
Based on my reporting over the past few weeks, here are three people to watch right now.
The former New York mayor has signed on to Trump’s personal legal team dealing with the ongoing special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Giuliani told me last week that he’s “doing it because I hope we can negotiate an end to this for the good of the country and because I have high regard for the president and for Bob Mueller,” who is leading the probe. While Giuliani is a veteran attorney who once served in a senior role at Department of Justice and was a federal prosecutor, he is going to be tested in the coming weeks on several fronts, not just on legal matters.
There are so many looming questions: What kind of relationship can he build with Mueller? Will the president sit for an interview with investigators? And can Giuliani get along with Trump’s other lawyers, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow?
Beyond the thorny legal challenges, Giuliani will have to manage a tough client in the combative president. Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Mueller’s investigation over the past year, calling it a “witch hunt.” Since Giuliani has known Trump for decades, going back to their days as stars of the New York scene, he understands his brusque personality. But with the current situation being complicated and charged, Giuliani’s rapport with him is important but perhaps far from enough to guarantee a long and lasting partnership.
Congressman Mark Meadows, a 58-year-old lawmaker from North Carolina, is best known on Capitol Hill as the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives who frequently oppose GOP leaders. Inside the White House, however, he is better known as one of the president’s top allies — someone who regularly calls the Oval Office to update the president on congressional happenings and talk through the latest issues. In recent weeks, Meadows has taken up an even more prominent position in that orbit due to his efforts around the Russia probe and his battles with the Department of Justice over document production —particularly with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation.
Meadows met privately with Rosenstein at the Justice Department last week, signaling the kind of pressure that Trump’s confidants are putting on Justice officials about various issues as the Mueller probe continues. Meadows matters these days because although he’s not the highest-ranking friend of Trump in Congress — that’d be House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California — he is deeply engaged with the president, both personally and politically. He’s someone the president trusts to have his back in the fights with the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill. With tensions only escalating over Rosenstein and Mueller, keep an eye on Meadows and his activities.
For a president who worked in the television world, Fox News personality and host Sean Hannity is a link back to it — and to the national conservative base Trump cultivates. According to several White House officials and friends of Trump, the pair regularly speak by phone and the president is known to watch Hannity’s program both as a fan and for clues about what is driving Trump supporters nationally. They have also shared an attorney in Michael Cohen, a longtime Trump aide who is under criminal investigation. The once unknown overlap has brought more attention to bond between the two men.
To understand the Trump presidency at this moment, Hannity can be a useful guide. His wariness of certain media outlets, his anger toward the Mueller investigation, and his blasé attitude toward the Republican establishment all reflect the instincts of President Trump — all as Trump is relying more and more on his own instincts to guide him through a thicket of obstacles. “Sometimes, Hannity gets him fired up,” a Trump adviser told me and my Washington Post colleagues. “But Hannity also reminds him of what his base thinks.”