Trump Confidant: Sessions, Priebus on Borrowed Time in Administration
Source says public slights intentionally designed to lead attorney general, chief of staff to the exit doors
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Reince Priebus, chief of staff, are not expected to last much longer in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, one of the president’s longtime confidants told LifeZette Monday.
The reason? Trump is deeply unhappy about the administration always being on defense, and he believes Sessions and Priebus have contributed to that situation. Trump believes it’s time for “fresh” faces — people who will fight.
“They’re constantly on defense, and that’s driving Trump’s approval ratings down,” said the source, who asked not to be identified so as to speak freely.
The source, who is not a federal employee and who speaks to Trump regularly, said Trump is a “builder” who has tremendous leverage over lawmakers but, because of bungling by Priebus, cannot get Obamacare repeal or an infrastructure bill through Congress. That could change with a new, more aggressive chief of staff, the source said.
Trump is also unhappy with Sessions for recusing himself from the Department of Justice’s Russia investigation. The investigation, handled by Robert Mueller, will look at whether the Russians hacked into Democratic email accounts and then released that information to WikiLeaks.
Democrats have suggested for months that the Trump campaign or Trump associates might have helped Russia coordinate the release of the hacked information to WikiLeaks. There is no proof of that yet, and as liberal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has pointed out, there is arguably nothing illegal about that scenario — even if there were truth to it.
But special counsel investigations get wide leeway, and Trump is reportedly angry Mueller is considering poking around his finances. Trump could indirectly fire Mueller, if he could convince the investigator’s superior at the Department of Justice to do so.
Firing Mueller could politically lead to a downward spiral for Trump. His agenda on Obamacare repeal and tax reform could be damaged. Republican members of Congress might abandon all pretense of loyalty to Trump. And Democrats might gain momentum to start impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.
But Trump is fed up, the source says.
“Sessions has done nothing offensively,” said the source.
Trump is closer to making a decision to ask Sessions to resign, because of a new leak about Sessions speaking to the Russian ambassador during last year’s campaign. (The report was based on intercepts caught by U.S. spy agencies monitoring Russian chatter. Sessions was not part of the surveillance.)
“That was the last straw” in Trump’s mind, the source said.
The Washington Post reported Monday night that White House aides have indeed had informal talks on replacing Sessions, part of a plan to eventually get Trump allies to a place where they can fire Mueller. Among those mentioned as Sessions replacements are U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Trump had been unhappy with his press office since early May.
The White House began cutting down on live televised press briefings and began having Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then the principal deputy press secretary, answer reporters’ questions. Trump said he believed Sanders and Sean Spicer, the press secretary, were being beaten up too much by reporters.
But after firing FBI Director James Comey in early May, the communications team was caught flat-footed. Trump complained about the response, and soon his first communications director, Mike Dubke, resigned.
Priebus looked for candidates, but after Trump supporter and frequent TV surrogate Anthony Scaramucci embarrassed CNN with a forced retraction in late June, Trump took notice. He hired Scaramucci last week, and deliberately cut Priebus and Spicer out of the hiring process.
And Trump did more than that, according to the source close to Trump. The president erupted in anger when he read a draft of a press release Spicer wrote that stated Scaramucci would report to Spicer. (The White House did not reply to LifeZette about that claim.)
Trump did not like that and made a point of saying Scaramucci would report directly to the president. The shot at Priebus was unmistakable. Spicer, a Priebus ally, resigned on Friday, although he will serve through August.
Over the weekend, Scaramucci even told talk show hosts that he would fire leakers, a job usually done by a chief of staff.
What’s more, Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media, tweeted out on Saturday that he also reports directly to Trump.
Axios reported that the humiliations aimed at Priebus are intentional, and the president — who liked firing people on his TV show, but dislikes the process now — is hoping Priebus will take the hint.
Priebus has very few internal allies, Axios reported. And on Monday night, Fox News reporter Ed Henry said Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has soured on Priebus.
But the main issue with Priebus is replacing him, the source told LifeZette. No name has been settled upon.
Sanders did not respond to an email from LifeZette about Sessions and Priebus.