White House

Drama grips Trump inner circle, as president charges ahead on agenda

Fmr. CIA Director James Woolsey says it 'merits a hearing.'

 

The Trump inner circle is becoming less like “The Apprentice” and more like “Survivor.”

National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn may or may not survive scrutiny regarding his ties to Russia. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway is building out her staff, reportedly with an eye toward greater influence – even as she has been reprimanded for promoting Ivanka Trump products. Press Secretary Sean Spicer is the subject of a viral parody that apparently has his boss fuming, and outside personnel are interviewing for unspecified jobs in his communications department. 

But does the daily drama constitute just the right level of chaos for a president who thrives in these environments and famously encourages competition among his deputies?

“The president is extremely focused on his biggest job that he has, that’s keeping our country safe; he’s doing everything he can to ensure that’s the No. 1 priority,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on “America’s Newsroom.” “I know he’s reviewing [the Flynn] situation, and certainly we’ll leave that to him to make any announcement, if there is any.”

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Trump’s successful presidential campaign underwent plenty of turmoil, as the candidate cycled through three different campaign managers. The go-with-your-gut approach also routinely got the team in trouble, with sanctioned and unsanctioned surrogates often going off-script during television interviews.

Still, Trump weathered all those storms to win on election night. And he's charging ahead with his agenda as president -- on immigration, security and trade -- despite the drama around him. 

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The fire may be hottest right now under Flynn, who’s under attack from Republicans and Democrats alike for his pre-inauguration conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had initially denied that his December phone call with Kislyak had included talk about upcoming Obama administration sanctions on Russia, and Vice President Mike Pence, reportedly assured of this by Flynn himself, told CBS' “Face The Nation” last month that the chat’s timing was “strictly coincidental.”

But The Washington Post reported that Flynn and Kislyak indeed discussed sanctions in a series of phone calls, leading Flynn to walk back his denial and say he could not be 100 percent certain the topic had not come up, a White House official told Fox News on Friday. Trump was pondering Flynn’s fate this weekend while at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, The Washington Post reported – though Trump may hold off on issuing a “you're fired” to one of his most ardent supporters during the presidential campaign, worried Flynn’s departure could be seen as a sign of weakness.

In a sign of Flynn’s uncertain position, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declined to defend Flynn during his circuit on the Sunday political talk shows.

“It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind,” Miller told NBC's “Meet The Press.” Trump later tweeted his approval of Miller’s performance.

Flynn has since apologized to Pence and Pence has accepted his apology, a senior West Wing source told Fox News. And when asked if Flynn could soon be ousted, the source said those rumors were nothing more than "palace intrigue" and "all squawk."

“Obviously, they were not happy, but he is not gonna be gone by the end of the week," the source said. 

Flynn did attend the joint press conference Monday afternoon with Trump and visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though Trump did not answer shouted questions on Flynn’s status. Spicer later told reporters that Trump was "evaluating the situation" and was speaking to Pence and others about the matter.

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Flynn is not alone. Conway and Spicer also have come off some of their worst weeks since joining the Trump campaign.

Conway on Thursday was accused of violating ethics rules during an interview on “Fox & Friends.” Discussing Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, the Trump loyalist and former campaign manager put in a plug for the first daughter: “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Later, at the White House press briefing, Spicer said Conway had been “counseled,” a word that reportedly drew a rebuke from Trump – even as congressional lawmakers seek a review.

Then there's the "Saturday Night Live" factor. 

The show is no stranger to political parody, but has been relentless in going after Trump officials -- and seen as getting under the president's skin. A week after CNN said the network passed on having Conway on its shows due to alleged credibility issues, “SNL” portrayed Conway as a crazed stalker trying to seduce CNN host Jake Tapper into putting her back on air.

The sketch comedy show also has gone after Spicer, with the Navy Reserve commander being portrayed by a water-gun spraying, press-heckling, leaf-blower wielding Melissa McCarthy. Spicer seemed to take the skit in stride, telling “Extra” that McCarthy needed to “slow down on the gum chewing.” But Politico reported that Trump was no fan, particularly upset that Spicer was being portrayed by a woman.

A former spokesperson for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Spicer is currently handling both the press secretary and communications director gigs after Jason Miller bowed out of the communications director job during the transition. But now several prospects for communications positions -- among them Spicer's press secretary role -- are rumored to have been looked at, including former Great America PAC spokesman Carl Higbie. The retired Navy SEAL shot down those rumors in a tweet, denying he’d had any “formal interviews.”

Priebus also found himself grappling with the rumor mill over the weekend. Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a friend of Trump who spoke with the president on Friday, bashed Priebus in interviews with CNN and The Washington Post on Sunday. However, Ruddy quickly walked back some of his critique, noting that Priebus had recently informed him of some “impressive” new White House plans. He also tweeted that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and influential adviser, thought Priebus was doing an “amazing job.”

Fox News' Jennifer Griffin and John Roberts contributed to this report.