Turnover, investigations leave Donald Trump's administration adrift


WASHINGTON (AP) — Rattled by two weeks of muddled messages, departures and spitting matches between the president and his own top officials, Donald Trump is facing a shrinking circle of trusted advisers and a staff that’s grim about any prospect of a reset.

Even by the standards of Trump’s often chaotic administration, the announcement of Hope Hicks’ imminent exit spread new levels of anxiety across the West Wing and cracked open disputes that had been building since the White House’s botched handling of domestic violence allegations against a senior aide late last month.

One of Trump’s most loyal and longest-serving aides, Hicks often served as human buffer between the unpredictable president and the business of government. One official on Thursday compared the instability caused by her departure to that of a chief of staff leaving the administration — though that prospect, too, remained a possibility given the questions that have arisen about John Kelly’s competence.

Hicks’ departure comes as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation appears to be circling the Oval Office, with prosecutors questioning Trump associates about both his business dealings before he became president and his actions in office, according to people with knowledge of the interviews. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has also been weakened after being stripped of his high-level security clearance amid revelations about potential conflicts of interest.


The biggest unknown is how the mercurial Trump will respond to Hicks’ departure and Kushner’s more limited access, according to some of the 16 White House officials, congressional aides and outside advisers interviewed by The Associated Press, most of whom insisted on anonymity in order to disclose private conversations and meetings. Besides Kushner and his wife, presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, most remaining White House staffers were not part of Trump’s close-knit 2016 campaign. One person who speaks to Trump regularly said the president has become increasingly wistful about the camaraderie of that campaign.

Rarely has a modern president confronted so many crises and controversies across so many fronts at the same time. After 13 months in office, there’s little expectation among many White House aides and outside allies that Trump can quickly find his footing or attract new, top-flight talent to the West Wing. And some Republican lawmakers, who are eying a difficult political landscape in November’s midterm elections, have begun to let private frustrations ooze out in public.

“There is no standard operating practice with this administration,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. “Every day is a new adventure for us.”

Thune’s comments described the White House’s peculiar rollout Thursday of controversial new aluminum and steel tariffs. White House aides spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning scrambling to steer the president away from an announcement on an unfinished policy, with even Kelly in the dark about Trump’s plans. Aides believed they had succeeded in getting Trump to back down and hoped to keep television cameras away from an event with industry executives so the president couldn’t make a surprise announcement. But Trump summoned reporters into the Cabinet Room anyway and declared that the U.S. would levy penalties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

Some of Trump’s populist supporters cheered the move. The stock market, which Trump looks to for validation for his economic policies, plunged.

Some officials are bracing for more departures. On Thursday, NBC News reported that the White House was preparing to replace national security adviser H.R. McMaster as early as next month.

White House Sarah Huckabee Sanders told “Fox & Friends” on Friday that “Gen. McMaster isn’t going anywhere.”

As for talk of a White House in upheaval, Sanders pointed out the tax cuts passed late last year: “If they want to call it chaos, fine, but we call it success and productivity and we’re going to keep plugging along.”

For those remaining on the job, the turbulence has been relentless. Just two weeks ago, Kelly, the general brought in to bring order, was himself on the ropes for his handling of the domestic violence allegations against a close aide, Rob Porter. Trump was said to be deeply irritated by the negative press coverage of Kelly’s leadership during the controversy and considering firing him. But first, the president planned to give his chief of staff a chance to defend himself before reporters in the briefing room and gauge the reaction, according to two people with knowledge of the episode. The briefing, however, was canceled after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Kelly’s standing has stabilized somewhat as media attention to the Porter issue has waned.

One Kelly backer said the chief of staff’s standing remains tenuous, in part because of his clashes with Kushner over policy, personnel and White House structure. The tensions were exacerbated by Kelly’s decision to downgrade Kushner’s security clearance because the senior adviser had not been permanently approved for the highest level of access.

Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who also serves as a senior White House adviser, have been frustrated by Kelly’s attempt to restrict their access to the president, and they perceive his new crackdown on clearances as a direct shot at them, according to White House aides and outside advisers. Kelly, in turn, has grown frustrated with what he views as the couple’s freelancing. He blames them for changing Trump’s mind at the last minute and questions what exactly they do all day, according to one White House official and an outside ally.

The ethics questions dogging Kushner relate to both his personal financial interests and his dealings in office with foreign officials. Intelligence officials expressed concern that Kushner’s business dealings were a topic of discussion in conversations he was having with foreign officials about foreign policy issues of interest to the U.S. government, a former intelligence official said. Separately, The New York Times reported that two companies made loans worth more than half a billion dollars to Kushner’s family real estate firm after executives met with Kushner at the White House.

Allies of Kushner and Ivanka Trump insist they have no plans to leave the White House in the near future. As for Kelly, he appeared to hint at his tough spot during an event Thursday at the Department of Homeland Security, where he served as secretary before departing for the White House.

“The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security,” he said at the agency’s 15th anniversary celebration in Washington. “But I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess.”

President Donald Trump speaks during the White House Opioid Summit in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Gaga Bump

    You know what’s adrift? The Sun Journal. Months and months of trying to trash Trump and his approval remains higher than Obama’s approval.

    • Jon Mennealy

      I would love to hear where you get the info about Trump’s approval rating being higher than Obama’s. From what I have seen, there is about a 25 point difference in Obama’s favor for their first year.

    • FrankE

      The Sun Journal nor any other publication needs to “trash” the Trump administration. Trump has seen to it himself to collect a group of cabinet members with his own level of expertise. I have never seen a more unfit cabinet or President for that matter. I’m just hoping this country will survive this Republican onslaught, long enough to impeach Trump and replace all his inept cronies.
      Name another industry business, or even job that would allow someone completely unprepared, unfit, and totally untrained to do the job. Even burger flippers at McDonald’s needs references………………….

      • Henry Jacobs

        We elected Trump for the explicit purpose of changing the liberal progressive cradle to grave welfare system.

        • FrankE

          Fortunately what you got instead is a party in irreversible free fall. How on earth could a sane person support a Republican???????

          • Henry Jacobs

            Who needs a party when you are always the one bring all the refreshments, and others bring nothing? They just take.

  • Henry Jacobs

    The majority of the Trump administration news we read is fabricated hyperbole form certain media outlets designed for the unwashed masses with the purpose of creating the sense of chaos.

    • FrankE

      The news is not fabricated, in fact, it was predictable. Donald Trump has led a life of cheating, stealing and reneging on his responsibilities his entire life. He has masterminded the longest running con job known to American history. Given his past, his future was easily predicted. So when he finally made running for President official, his immediate future was already a forgone conclusion. You can’t change a seventy year old mans business habits. Stealing money is so much easier than actually earning it. Once it’s in your blood it’s to tempting to give up.
      Trump is responsible for all of his own problems. Since day one I saw this coming and after reading two recent books on the subject, I feel justified. To say that anyone but Trump himself is responsible for his troubles would be a huge mistake. We can only hope this presidency comes to a quick and painful end so the healing process can begin. Repairing Trumps damage will take a long time………………….

      • Henry Jacobs

        Sure FrankE, you read two anti-Trump books to re-enforce your obvious anti-Trump biases. We know all and see that. Don’t forget that the GOP is going after MC and SS next. All aboard the Turmp train.

        • FrankE

          I understand the GOP is going after MC and SS, however, the entire country is going after the Trump administration. I get the biggest kick out of conservative responses to anything they have no legitimate response to, “well Trumps going to take away your safety net programs”, like that’s ever going to happen.

          • Henry Jacobs


            Those programs are going to be scaled back one way or the other regardless who is in the white house. If nothing else, we are letting inflation chip away at them, and thank goodness.

          • FrankE

            Henry, I have just three questions regarding your philosophies. (1) Where exactly do you get your slanted information? (2) Why are conservatives so hell bent on eliminating programs that actually help those who need it, and (3) why do conservatives take such great joy in telling those who for what ever reason are forced to live on a specific program, which that program was designed for, that they are going to eliminate your safety net. I’m sorry but I’ve said this many times in the past, and the present White House and many present day conservatives prove my point. Conservatism is a mental illness. There can be no other reason you would take such pleasure in taunting a disabled person with losing their benefits.

            I’m not sure if your aware of what a person has to live on with SSDI. So why would you want that person to “cut back bigly”. Have you informed your relatives that in the event of a catastrophic illness or accident, Henry doesn’t want any help from anyone, he’s tough. He’ll take care of himself. Or is it a fact that Conservatives don’t actually get sick, they just ugly away………………

          • Henry Jacobs


            I and others have answered these questions many, many times.

            1. The information is not slanted. It is called demographics. The population is aging and there are progressively less worker pulling the wagon and more people piling in. Simple. Just read about Social Security and Medicare unfunded liabilities.

            2. Those programs should have never been started in the first place. We believe that government should be small and provide only basic services, such as roads, sanitation, and defense. Nothing more.

            3. First, let Henry set the record straight. No one is forcing you to do anything. You can simply walkaway from your welfare by going back to work.

            Conservatives are typically the fiscal adults in the room telling the children (i.e. liberals), no, you cannot have that. It is really that simple if we want to build on your analogy. It is really that simple.

          • FrankE

            You simply don’t get it. Along with your small government there must be small brains as well. You actually believe that I choose not to work, that I gave up well over a hundred grand per year for less than twenty grand. You my friend are sick, much sicker than I am. Your also incredibly ignorant as well. I do not choose to stay out of work, I’m not allowed to work. Course Mr. Tough Guy Republican just shakes it off and goes on with his life.
            Thank God the Republicans will be lambasted come this fall. With a little luck it will be years before another ignorant consevative ever wins anything.

          • Henry Jacobs

            Yes FrankE, I do shake off the name calling.

            Question for you now. Do you share living expenses with other people like yourself or do you expect to own you own home, car, or whatever on living on SSDI? If the answer is no, then why not?

          • FrankE

            The answer is no I don’t share living expenses with anyone else, in fact, I do own my own home and car, and I happen to have good credit. You ought to try accomplishing that on 1/6th of your income over a period of years. I’m disabled, not dead. furthermore I wasn’t always disabled. I know it kills you to think that someone on SSDI could own a home and a car.
            All I’m saying is SSDI has been a life saver for me in a time of need, now I have it to assist me for life. I plan on living as comfortable as possible as long as I can.
            Everyone especially those who have paid into the system for so many years is ENTITLED to it. it’s not welfare and personally I think your just jealous…………………

          • Henry Jacobs

            Oh FrankE, how mislead some people are when they think they are entitled to other people’s earnings. Government sending is pay as you go, so there is not savings on your behalf or my behalf.

            Over 60% of the Federal budget is spent on, well, let’s call it entitlements for your placation. The working population is aging. It’s going to change whether you like it or not. Open your eyes, see what’s coming. Prepare and adapt.

          • FrankE

            With a little luck, I’ll be dead in the next twenty or thirty years. I get what I get now, and that is all that I care about. Am I leaving anything out????????