Communications staff and senior staffers at the White House were literally “hiding in offices,” according to a senior Trump aide, as a gaggle of White House press stormed White House hallways just after the Washington Post story broke on Monday evening.
“Do not ask me about how this looks, we all know how this looks,” the senior aide told The Daily Beast on Monday evening. Trump administration officials spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely. The aide described a scene at the White House as tense and “a morgue,” where senior officials such as Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Stephen Bannon convened to sketch an immediate path forward in handling the aftermath.
But administration officials see the optics of the situation as catastrophic to an administration struggling to deal with a torrent of news about the FBI’s investigation, Comey’s firing, and increasingly loud calls for an independent probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.
“At this point I’m wondering if we’ll ever be able to stop talking about Russia,” a White House staffer said shortly after the Post story was published. “It’s totally self-inflicted. Every time I feel like we’re getting a handle on the last Russia fiasco, a new one pops.”
“With news like this I’m beginning to wonder why Trump ran in the first place and if he really cares about the country,” said a senior Trump appointee involved in counter-ISIS policymaking. “I miss candidate Trump. Now he’s just a pathetic mess.”
“I doubt he did it to collude [with the Russians]. I think he’s dumb and doesn’t know the difference,” a former FBI official who worked aspects of the Russia investigation told The Daily Beast. “He thinks he’s arranging some business deal except that he’s not.”
When asked if they could use info in way that harms the U.S., this official said, “of course.”
The Russians, the source added, “like [Trump’s] mental instability and stupidity. They don’t like his unpredictability.”
[One] official, who is familiar with Trump’s thinking on these matters, said it will exacerbate “his animus and suspicion towards ‘Deep State’” and Obama-holdover actors, who Trump and some of his closest advisors have suspected of trying to damage his presidency through anonymous leaks to the press.