September 19, 2021

Some Trump allies eager to defend him but frustrated by White House inaction


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some allies of U.S. President Donald Trump say they are eager to defend him against impeachment allegations but have been confounded by the White House’s inability to settle on a clear strategy for confronting the charges.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a ceremonial swearing-in for Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

With Trump leading his own defense in a series of increasingly hyperbolic tweets, his allies are clamoring for the type of messaging they can use to battle the impeachment probe during appearances on cable television news shows, a key source of information for many Americans about the unfolding drama.

One ally said attempts to get information from the White House to use on television to defend Trump had not yet produced what was needed.

“Just tell me what it is and I’ll promote it for you,” said the ally, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re not responding.”

Said another: “There is no cohesive outside messaging. You have to wait to see the tweets.”

White House advisers, aware that Trump himself is impatient that more people defend him on television, are discussing how best to deal with the challenge that will consume Trump for months, a senior administration official said.

The official, who requested anonymity given the confidential nature of the discussions, told Reuters that officials had not gone into hyperdrive over the issue only because the Democratic-led House of Representatives has yet to vote to formally launch an impeachment probe.

One option they are discussing to confront the challenge includes bringing in a lawyer to serve as the main official dealing with impeachment, in the same way attorney Emmett Flood led the White House effort during U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, a source close to the White House said.

There has been some talk among officials about possibly bringing Flood back to the White House, the source said.

Flood could not immediately be reached for comment.

Another source close to the administration was hopeful that the White House would create an operation that included political communications and coordination with Capitol Hill, where Republican lawmakers are battling impeachment.

“It’s safe to say that there are many people inside and outside the White House that want to see the Republican pushback be a serious and thorough operation — call it whatever you want, a war room or a political operation,” the source said. “There needs to be a sense of urgency that we don’t see from the outside.”

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top U.S. Democrat, last week announced plans for an impeachment inquiry following the disclosure of a July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which the U.S. president asked for help in looking into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s ties to Ukraine.

Trump has said he considers the inquiry unfair and that his conversation with Zelenskiy was “perfect.”

“I’m not convinced that they’re prepared for what’s about to occur,” said one source familiar with the president’s thinking.

The struggle to defend Trump on television has already become evident.

One of Trump’s high-profile defenders in Congress, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, said in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday that “the president did nothing in this phone call that’s impeachable.”

But McCarthy would not specifically address whether it was appropriate for Trump to ask Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden. Nor would he discuss a Republican strategy for defending Trump.

“There’s not something that you have to defend here,” McCarthy said.

Another prominent House Republican, veteran U.S. Representative Greg Walden, was asked by a reporter on Friday whether there was a need for investigating a federal whistleblower’s complaint related to the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call. Walden responded, “They’re (Democrats) going to do what they’re going to do” and then abruptly ended his conversation with reporters.

Earlier in the week, Walden issued a statement saying the phone call “wasn’t President Trump’s finest moment.” He added that the call fell short of meeting the threshold for impeachement proceedings, however.

“From what I’ve seen so far it certainly does not rise to ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’” Walden said.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Richard Cowan and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Tom Brown

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Steve Holland