Speed Reads

Trump-Russia

White House aides, allies describe a tense, chaotic West Wing after the Trump intelligence-leaking bombshell

"Can we have a crisis-free day?" asked Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Monday night, after news broke that President Trump reportedly shared top secret intelligence with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office last week. "That's all I'm asking." Her plea was not just hers. "It never stops," one White House official said in a text message to Politico. "Basically chaos at all times." When an NBC News reporter asked a White House aide about the reports, the query was deflected: "I'm dealing with other dumpster fires."

After all the mayhem last week, tied to Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, "aides had sought a calm week to avoid a widespread staff shake-up," Politico reports. Senior advisers and aides point out that the chaos is mostly coming from the top, Politico says, "but top officials — knowing [Trump] is often swayed by media coverage — are trying to get through the week without any firings and hope that a 10-day foreign trip goes off without a hitch and changes his often frustrated mood."

Calm was not to be found. About an hour and a half after The Washington Post published its report, later backed up by several major news organizations, the administration released three carefully worded rebuttals from some of the most credible people in the White House, and one of them, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, read a short statement denying things The Washington Post wasn't really reporting. About 15 minutes later, top aides Stephen Bannon, Mike Dubke, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Sean Spicer were seen walking into a Cabinet room and, according to reporters crowded in the hallways, White House staffers turned up the volume on TV sets to drown out the yelling from that meeting.

Trump "may have not been aware of the sensitivity of what he was sharing" with the Russians in "granular details," The New York Times reported, and the error was discovered "only after the meeting, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials." One adviser who often speaks with Trump found that plausible, telling Politico that Trump was probably just trying to impress his Russian guests. "He doesn't really know any boundaries," the adviser said. "He doesn't sometimes realize the implications of what he's saying. I don't think it was his intention in any way to share any classified information. He wouldn't want to do that."