White House without a plan to address debt ceiling

By Josh Boak

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House lacks a unified plan to increase the government’s borrowing cap as a likely September deadline is drawing near, said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

A failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling could possibly send dangerous shockwaves through the global economy. The federal government could be at risk of defaulting on obligations such as interest payments on bonds as well as temporarily halting benefit programs.

The White House budget director suggested in an interview Thursday with reporters that neither the Trump administration nor Capitol Hill lawmakers have set their terms for an agreement.

In this photo taken May 25, 2017, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks during a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (Andrew Harnik, File/AP)

“It’s fair to say we haven’t settled on a final way to address the debt ceiling any more than the Hill has,” Mulvaney said.

The former South Carolina congressman added that none of this was necessarily “unusual.”

Under the current borrowing restrictions, the government has already been taking extraordinary measures and will likely be unable to pay its bills at some point in September. But Congress still has a recess scheduled in August that could create time pressures. Private analysts say the debt ceiling deadline could be extended into October.

Mulvaney said he would like to see the debt ceiling raised in July.

But Trump administration officials still have yet to resolve internal differences on the best strategy to increase the legal cap on government debt, which already exceeds $19.8 trillion.

Mulvaney suggested that he would like to have any increase in the borrowing authority be attached to other spending changes, a move that could attract Republican support but alienate Senate Democrats. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal seeks to beef up spending on the military and border security while cutting many social programs.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has indicated that he would like a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling, so it would not have to be tied to any spending changes.

Mulvaney said that Mnuchin would ultimately be in charge of handling the debt ceiling push “once we do settle on our formal policy, if we do.”

A 2011 standoff between Republicans and the Obama administration over the debt ceiling led to tighter controls on spending. That standoff was not resolved until the 11th hour and prompted Standard & Poor’s to impose the first-ever downgrade to the country’s credit rating.

The administration is also engaged in talks with House and Senate Republican leaders about what kind of increase they could possibly pass. He said the issue was not a source of division inside the White House or the Republican Party.

The discussions involve whether the House should increase the debt limit enough to last through the 2018 election or the president’s first term.

“It would be foolish of us to come up with a policy devoid of having talked to the Hill,” Mulvaney said.

Congress also faces pressure to pass a budget in September for next fiscal year, as well as to address administration priorities that include a tax code rewrite and the proposed repeal of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health insurance law.

Failure to pass spending bills could cause a government shutdown and cause non-essential government agencies to close their doors. Trump suggested on Twitter last month that he might welcome a shutdown to help shake up the government.

Mnuchin told the Senate Budget Committee this week that “at times there could be a good shutdown,” though he cautioned it’s not the administration’s “primary objective.”




White House begins its government reorganization

By Josh Boak

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House says it’s beginning a broad government reorganization that could include efforts to merge federal agencies.

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says they will start at his agency by removing 59 of its internal policy requirements. This includes seven outdated memos on reports to plan for Y2K computer updates, an event that occurred more than 18 years ago

Federal agencies are scheduled to submit by June 30 their own plans to trim internal policy requirements. The administration plans to ask Congress to remove any obsolete or redundant requirements that are written into law, rather than internal guidance agencies can eliminate on their own.

Mulvaney says he is now focusing on the government reorganization because the president’s fiscal 2018 budget has been proposed.




White House communications director resigns amid tensions

WASHINGTON – A top White House communications staffer has resigned as President Donald Trump considers a major staff overhaul amid intensifying inquiries into his campaign’s dealings with Russia.

The departure of Michael Dubke, Trump’s communications director, comes as aides and outside advisers say Trump has grown increasingly frustrated by allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and revelations of possible ties between his campaign and Moscow.

Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”

Dubke wrote in a statement that it had been an honor to serve Trump and “my distinct pleasure to work side by side, day by day with the staff of the communications and press departments.”

Dubke offered his resignation earlier this month, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told The Associated Press on Tuesday, but offered to stay on during the president’s first foreign trip. His last day has not yet been determined.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus thanked Dubke in a statement and said Dubke had “offered to remain onboard until a transition is concluded.”

“Mike will assist with the transition and be a strong advocate for the president and the president’s policies moving forward,” he said.

A Republican consultant, Dubke joined the White House team in February. The position had gone unfilled after campaign aide Jason Miller – Trump’s original choice for communications director – backed out of the job in December before the president’s inauguration. Dubke founded Crossroads Media, a GOP firm that specializes in political advertising.

Dubke is the latest White House staffer to leave the administration as scrutiny intensifies over contacts Trump staffers may have had with Russian government officials during the campaign and transition.

It’s unclear whether other staff moves are imminent. Trump has entertained bringing his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, more formally back into the fold. And both Lewandowski and Bossie visited the White House on Monday night, according to a person familiar with the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private get-together.

Bossie told “Fox & Friends” that the Trump administration has reached out to him but hasn’t offered him a job yet.

“They have talked to many people, including me,” Bossie said. He later added: “It’s an ongoing conversation, and that’s a fair way to put it.”

In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday, Conway said Dubke “made very clear that he would see through the president’s international trip, and come to work every day and work hard even through that trip because there was much to do here back at the White House.”

Dubke’s hiring was intended to lighten the load on Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who had also been handling the duties of communications director during Trump’s first month in office. Trump has privately and publicly pinned much of the blame for his administration’s rough start on the White House’s communications strategy.

While overseas, Trump’s longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, joined a still-forming legal team to help the president shoulder the intensifying investigations into Russian interference in the election and his associates’ potential involvement. More attorneys with deep experience in Washington investigations are expected to be added, along with crisis communication experts, to help the White House in the weeks ahead.

The latest revelations to emerge last week involved Trump’s son-in-law and top aide, Jared Kushner. Shortly after the election, Kushner allegedly discussed setting up a secret communications channel with the Russian government to facilitate sensitive discussions about the conflict in Syria.

The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.

Flynn handed in his resignation in February after it was revealed he misled top White House officials about his contacts with Russian officials.

A senior administration official said Kushner was keeping his head down and focusing on work after the foreign trip. The official said Kushner was eager to share what he knows with Congress and other investigators. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss private thinking and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The disclosure of the back channel has put the White House on the defensive. Just back from his nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe, Trump dismissed recent reports as “fake news.”

Trump also has renewed his criticism of Germany following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion that her country needs to adopt a more independent stance in world affairs.

Trump posted a tweet Tuesday saying “we have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”

A view of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Susan Walsh, File/AP)

 

Trump meets with G7 leaders after going on offensive

 

Flynn rejects Trump-Russia probe subpoena; Dems say he lied

 




Trump finds that CEO-as-president isn’t always a natural fit

 FILE - In this Friday, April 21, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump listens as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks at the Treasury Department in Washington. Trump won the White House by arguing that what America needed was a president who had proved himself as a steely and successful corporate leader with no political baggage, someone, say, like himself. Yet 100 days into Trump’s presidency, the businessman-as-president has struggled to apply his experience as a real estate and entertainment mogul to the Herculean task of governing the world’s most powerful nation. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)


President Donald Trump listens as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks at the Treasury Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump won the White House by arguing that what America needed was a president who had proved himself as a steely and successful corporate leader with no political baggage — someone, say, like himself.

If Abraham Lincoln relied on a team of rivals, Trump would command a team of “killer” CEOs. He cast himself as a gifted manager who could rewrite flawed trade deals, bridge gaps between Democrats and Republicans, work financial magic on the tax code and restore prosperity to devastated factory towns.

Yet 100 days into Trump’s presidency, the businessman-as-president has struggled to apply his experience as a real estate and entertainment mogul to the Herculean task of governing the world’s most powerful nation.

Asked to assess his tenure so far, management experts point to a stream of missteps that run counter to the clarity, discipline and consistency of message typical of the best executives. Blustery speeches have given way to fuzzy policies that have weakened the president’s negotiating hand on such complex challenges as revamping taxes and health insurance.

Trump’s actions on immigration have been blocked or tangled up in court battles. He has yet to fill countless senior government jobs. Having failed to pass any major legislation, Trump has instead resorted to signing a torrent of executive orders — an impulse more typical of a manager directing subordinates than a president building partnerships.

The administration has declared the 100-day mark an arbitrary deadline. But leading CEOs often work under even tighter schedules: Investors gauge their performance each quarter — every 90 days. John Challenger, CEO of the executive recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, notes that new chief executives typically face pressure to achieve victories in their first 90 days. Such milestones tend to draw potential critics to their side and establish authority, he said.

“They don’t have to be big wins —they can be early wins as you look for ways to show you’ve had an impact,” Challenger said. “This administration has had a hard time demonstrating, showing that.”

White House aides point out that Trump will have signed 32 executive orders by Friday, the most of any president in his first 100 days since World War II. But the actions produced by those orders fall well short of the bold promises he made as a candidate. Several of the executive orders are merely requests for studies — on financial regulations, environmental rules and trade policies. They suggest that the administration is still figuring out how government works and how to tame a rambunctious and independent-minded Congress, even one led, like the White House, by Republicans.

Trump still likes to bask in the glow of corporate America. Almost weekly, he has met with major chief executives at the White House for input on policy and photo-ops. Yet few around him know their way around government.

For secretary of state, Trump chose Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil. For Commerce secretary, his pick was Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor. For Treasury, it was Steve Mnuchin, a Wall Street executive turned movie producer. And as his top economic adviser, Trump tapped Gary Cohn, formerly Goldman Sachs’ No. 2 executive.

Like Trump, none of them had any political experience.

“It’s the blind leading the blind,” said Henry Mintzberg, a management expert at McGill University. “You need to get people who can think for themselves but also have a deep understanding of the issues. Drop this silly idea that government can be run like a business.”

In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Trump appeared to concede that a president cannot manage successfully with solely a bottom-line corporate mentality.

“Here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government, involves heart, whereas in business, most things don’t involve heart,” he said. “In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.”

Some in his Cabinet have portrayed their shift from the private sector as a natural move that bestows its own advantages.

“A lot of the things I learned in business carried over to this job,” Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said Wednesday. “A lot of it is about consensus building and teamwork.”

Trump, of course, needs support from Congress’ independently elected lawmakers to pass laws and from foreign leaders to forge global alliances — responsibilities that can be more delicate than negotiating with business partners who stand to profit from cutting a deal.

Since becoming president, Trump has retreated from some of his audacious campaign promises. He now hails the NATO alliance as important, having previously labeled it obsolete. He backed away from labeling China as a currency manipulator and now casts Beijing as a likely ally in defusing a nuclear North Korea.

These changes display a certain openness to change in response to circumstances, said Kathleen O’Connor, a professor at Cornell University’s business school with an expertise in negotiating strategies.

Yet Trump has adopted so many contradictory stances as to make it hard to engender trust with lawmakers. He pushed an aggressive timeline for replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law, scrapped the plan once it failed to receive enough support from House Republicans and then tried to revive it this week while also unveiling his principles on a tax overhaul, trying to stop a government shutdown and issuing duties on Canadian lumber.

“He seems to lack some clarity with what he wants,” O’Connor said. “It’s hard to take that reputation to the bargaining table because you don’t know if you’re going to get the same guy two days in a row.”

Richard Box, a retired professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, in 1999 wrote a major academic article about running government as a business. He suggests that the administration must make longer-term investments in policies and ideas to cultivate support with voters and lawmakers, rather than assume it can cut deals as one might for a TV show or condo tower.

Business leaders “sometimes come to (government) positions thinking it’s just a matter of the sort of command-and-control they are accustomed to in their companies,” Box said. “They soon find that government is much more complicated than this and it takes a different skill set to make things happen.”




Moderates balk at conservative-backed, revised health bill

 House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., left, talks with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. as they arrive for a GOP caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., left, talks with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. as they arrive for a GOP caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — The White House and Republican leaders worked Thursday to wring votes out of resistant moderate GOP lawmakers for the House health care bill, but remained shy of the support they’d need to fully rouse the measure back to life.

Centrist Republicans were the primary target of the lobbying, a day after the conservative House Freedom Caucus announced its support for a revised version of the legislation. The fresh backing from that group exhumed the bill from the legislative graveyard, but leaders still need moderates who’ve resisted the effort to jump aboard.

White House officials and party leaders were eager for a vote this week if possible, before the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, which falls this Saturday. But Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wants to avoid an encore of last month’s embarrassment, when he abruptly canceled a vote on a health care overhaul because of opposition from moderates and conservatives alike.

Ryan told reporters that leaders were making progress but added, “We’re going to go when we have the votes.” He noted that he had spoken earlier this year about a 200-day legislative plan because of the complexity of revamping the nation’s health system, its tax code and border security.

In at least one instance, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke to one recalcitrant conservative who is now a yes vote. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said he’d already decided to switch to backing the revamped bill on Wednesday before he got two phone calls from Pence, who on the second call handed the phone to Trump.

“Donald Trump expressed his appreciation for the position I was taking,” Brooks said Thursday. “That gives you a good feeling inside about what you’re doing.”

The recast bill would let states escape a requirement under former President Barack Obama’s health care law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. They could also be exempted from Obama’s mandate that insurers cover a list of services like maternity care, and from its bar against charging older customers more than triple their rates for younger ones.

Overall, the legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate Obama’s fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies.

Conservatives embraced the revisions as a way to lower people’s health care expenses. Moderates saw them as diminishing coverage because insurers could make policies for their most ill — and expensive — customers too costly for them to afford.

“No bill is going to solve every issue,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who crafted the newest edition of the legislation with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the hard-line Freedom Caucus. MacArthur is a leader of the roughly 50-member moderate House Tuesday Group, but it is unclear that he has won over many of their votes and he conceded that some lawmakers “are struggling to get to yes.”

The American Medical Association said it opposed the newly reshaped bill, as it did the original legislation.

The doctors’ group said letting insurers boost premiums on people with pre-existing conditions “will likely lead to patients losing their coverage.” It also said a provision requiring insurers to cover such people “may be illusory” because companies could make such policies unaffordable.

Some lawmakers and GOP aides suggested leaders were less than 10 away from the 216 votes Republicans will need to prevail. Others were more cautious, and there was little overt indication of new support from the party’s moderates.

Many of them oppose the legislation, citing its cuts in Medicaid, its less generous federal subsidies for people buying insurance and estimates that 24 million people would lose coverage.

“I still think there’s a lot of work to be done” before a vote can be held, said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, a member of the House GOP leadership.




Partisan discord tainting probes of Russia, Trump, election

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2017, file photo, National Intelligence Director nominee, former Indiana Sen, Dan Coats waits for the start of a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington. Partisan discord is seeping into House and Senate intelligence committee investigations of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether President Donald Trump has ties to Russia. The issue will likely surface at the Feb. 28 Senate confirmation hearing for former Coats. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 23, 2017, file photo, National Intelligence Director nominee, former Indiana Sen, Dan Coats waits for the start of a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington. Partisan discord is seeping into House and Senate intelligence committee investigations of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether President Donald Trump has ties to Russia. The issue will likely surface at the Feb. 28 Senate confirmation hearing for former Coats. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON — Partisan discord is seeping into House and Senate intelligence committee investigations of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether President Donald Trump has ties to Russia.

Both Republicans and Democrats say they can still conduct bipartisan probes, but there are renewed calls for a special prosecutor and revelations that the White House enlisted GOP chairmen of the intelligence committees to push back against news reports suggesting Trump advisers were in contact with Russians.

The issue will likely surface at Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Dan Coats, a former senator from Indiana who is Trump’s pick to be the next national intelligence director.

Federal investigators have been looking into possible contacts between Trump advisers and Russia for months, along with Russia’s role in political hacking during the campaign. Trump has denied knowing that any of his campaign advisers were in contact with Russians during the campaign. He has also said he has no financial ties or other connections to Russia.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said he wasn’t taking questions about whether the White House enlisted him to talk to reporters, as reported by The Washington Post.

“I’m in a comfortable place. I didn’t do anything to jeopardize my investigation,” Burr told The Associated Press on his way out of the Capitol after Senate votes Monday night.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, said if Burr did call reporters at the behest of the White House, it would be troubling. “If these reports are true, I think it’s going to be very hard to convince the public that there could be an impartial inquiry,” Wyden said.

On the House side, there was a simmering dispute Monday between the intelligence committee’s top Republican and Democrat.

The GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said that so far, he has not received any evidence from the intelligence community that anyone in Trump’s orbit was in contact with Russians during the presidential campaign.

Nunes — a member of Trump’s presidential transition team — has said the White House asked him to talk with one reporter about the matter, but didn’t give him any guidance on what to say. He said he told that reporter the same thing he’s said to many other reporters in the course of discussions.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also of California, said the committee has not reached any conclusion on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Russian officials or any Russian contacts.

“Nor could we,” he said. “We have called no witnesses thus far. We have obtained no documents on any counterintelligence investigation and we have yet to receive any testimony from the FBI of potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

Mostly Democrats have requested a special prosecutor, saying they worry that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who worked on Trump’s presidential campaign, is not in a position to oversee such an investigation

“I would recuse myself from anything that I should recuse myself on,” Sessions said Monday.




White House to propose boosting defense spending

The White House is viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. (CB Photo/Eduardo San Miguel Tió)

The White House is viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. (CB Photo/Eduardo San Miguel Tió)

WASHINGTON — The White House will propose boosting defense spending and slashing funding for longtime Republican targets like the Environmental Protection Agency in a set of marching orders to agencies as it prepares its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

President Donald Trump’s draft proposal for the 2018 budget year, which will be sent to agencies Monday, is sure to set off a huge Washington battle when it is finalized and submitted to Congress in mid-March.

Trump’s budget also won’t make significant changes to Social Security or Medicare, according to an administration official.

The official, as well as Capitol Hill aides, confirmed details of the upcoming blueprint on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information and a sensitive process.

Trump’s first major fiscal marker will land in the agencies one day before his first address to a joint session of Congress. For Trump, the primetime speech is an opportunity to refocus his young presidency on the core economic issues that were a centerpiece of his White House run.

The Pentagon is due for a huge boost, as Trump promised during the campaign. But many nondefense agencies and foreign aid programs are facing cuts, including at the State Department. The specific numbers aren’t final and agencies will have a chance to argue against the cuts as part of a longstanding tradition at the budget office.

The upcoming submission covers the budget year starting on Oct. 1. But first there’s an April 28 deadline to finish up the unfinished spending bills for the ongoing 2017 budget year, which is almost half over, and any stumble or protracted battle could risk a government shutdown.

The March release is also expected to include an immediate infusion of 2017 cash for the Pentagon that’s expected to register about $20 billion or so and contain the first wave of funding for Trump’s promised border wall and other initiatives like hiring immigration agents.

The president previewed a boost in military spending during a speech Friday to conservative activists, pledging “one of the greatest build-ups in American history.”

“We will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything, bigger and better and stronger than ever before,” he said.

In an interview with Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said cuts to Social Security and Medicare would not be part of the administration’s first budget. Trump’s priority is passing legislation to reduce middle-class and corporate taxes, he said.

As a candidate, Trump promised to leave major entitlements untouched, breaking with some Republican leaders who believe the costly programs need to be reformed.

The White House budget office issued a statement confirming that an interim budget submission will be released in mid-March but declining to comment on an “internal discussion.”

“The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively to create a budget that keeps the president’s promises to secure the country and restore fiscal sanity to how we spend American taxpayers’ money,” said Office of Management and Budget spokesman John Czwartacki.

Czwartacki said that the March submission would only address agency operating budgets funded by Congress and that proposals on tax reform and so-called mandatory programs — they include food stamps, student loans, health programs and farm subsidies — will be released later.

By increasing defense and leaving Medicare and Social Security untouched, the Trump final budget plan is sure to project sizable deficits. In the campaign Trump promised huge tax cuts but top GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin don’t want this year’s tax reform drive to add to the budget deficit.




Officials: Trump adviser asked FBI to dispute Russia reports

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, according to three White House officials who confirmed the unusual contact with law enforcement involved in a pending investigation.

The officials said that Priebus’ Feb. 15 request to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe came as the White House sought to discredit a New York Times report about calls between Russian intelligence officials and people involved with Trump’s presidential run.

As of Friday, the FBI had not commented publicly on the veracity of the report and there was no indication it planned to, despite the White House’s request.

The White House officials would only discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity. Two hours later, Trump panned news stories that rely on anonymous sources, telling a conservative conference that reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”

White House officials said it was the FBI that first raised concerns about the Times reporting but told Priebus the bureau could not weigh in publicly on the matter. The officials said McCabe and Comey instead gave Priebus the go-ahead to discredit the story publicly, something the FBI has not confirmed.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Priebus of committing “an outrageous breach of the FBI’s independence.” She called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to open a new investigation into all conversations Priebus and other White House officials have held with the FBI on ongoing investigations.

A 2009 memo from then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is to advise the White House on pending criminal or civil investigations “only when it is important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” When communication has to occur, the memo said, it should involve only the highest-level officials from the White House and the Justice Department.

CNN first reported that Priebus had asked the FBI for help, and a White House official confirmed the matter to The Associated Press Thursday night. On Friday morning, two other senior White House officials summoned reporters to a hastily arranged briefing to expand on the timeline of events.

The officials said Priebus had a previously scheduled meeting with McCabe the morning after the Times story was published. Priebus and Comey then spoke later in the day, the officials said in a highly unusual accounting of the White House’s discussions with FBI officials.

Earlier Friday, Trump accused the FBI of being “totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time.”

“They can’t even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW,” Trump tweeted.

Trump has been shadowed by questions about potential ties to Russia since winning the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have also concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Last week, Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn because he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI about his contacts, is said to have talked with the ambassador multiple times during the transition, including a discussion about U.S. sanctions policy.

Still, Trump and his advisers have denied having had contacts with Russian officials during the election. Last week, Trump said “nobody that I know of” spoke with Russian intelligence agents during the campaign.

Priebus alluded to his contacts with the FBI over the weekend, telling Fox News that “the top levels of the intelligence community” have assured him that the allegations of campaign contacts with Russia were “not only grossly overstated, but also wrong.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Priebus’ comments opened the door for FBI Director Comey to discuss the bureau’s investigation publicly.

“If the White House chief of staff can make public claims about the supposed conclusions of an FBI investigation, then Director Comey can come clean with the American people,” Wyden said.

Justin Shur, a former Justice Department public corruption prosecutor, said it was imperative that Justice Department investigations not be swayed by political considerations.

“As a general matter, investigations and prosecutions should be about gathering the facts and the evidence and applying the law,” Shur said.

During the campaign, Trump and other Republicans vigorously criticized a meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton, husband of Trump’s general election opponent. The meeting came as the FBI — which is overseen by the Justice Department — was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and personal internet server.




Trump White House wrestles with a crush of crises

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump accompanied by, from second from left, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Flynn resigned as President Donald Trump's national security adviser Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump accompanied by, from second from left, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON — Less than a month into his tenure, Donald Trump’s White House is beset by a crush of crises.

Divisions, dysfunction and high-profile exits have left the young administration nearly paralyzed and allies wondering how it will reboot. The bold policy moves that marked Trump’s first days in office have slowed to a crawl, a tacit admission that he and his team had not thoroughly prepared an agenda.

Nearly a week after the administration’s travel ban was struck down by a federal court, the White House is still struggling to regroup and outline its next move on that signature issue. It’s been six days since Trump — who promised unprecedented levels of immediate action — has announced a major new policy directive or legislative plan.

His team is riven by division and plagued by distractions. This week alone, controversy has forced out both his top national security aide and his pick for labor secretary.

“Another day in paradise,” Trump quipped Wednesday after his meeting with retailers was interrupted by reporters’ questions about links between his campaign staff and Russian officials.

Fellow Republicans have begun voicing their frustration and open anxiety that the Trump White House will derail their high hopes for legislative action.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota demanded Wednesday that the White House “get past the launch stage.”

“There are things we want to get done here, and we want to have a clear-eyed focus on our agenda, and this constant disruption and drumbeat with these questions that keep being raised is a distraction,” said Thune.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona blasted the White House’s approach to national security as “dysfunctional,” asking: “Who is in charge? I don’t know of anyone outside of the White House who knows.”

Such criticism from political allies is rare during what is often viewed as a honeymoon period for a new president. But Trump, an outsider who campaigned almost as much against his party as for it, has only a tiny reservoir of goodwill to protect him within the GOP. His administration has made uneven attempts to work closely with lawmakers and its own agencies.

Officials have begun trying to change some tactics, and some scenery, with the hope of steadying the ship. The White House announced Wednesday that Trump, who has often mentioned how much he loves adoring crowds and affirmation from his supporters, would hold a campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, the first of his term.

The event, according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, was being “run by the campaign” and it is listed on Trump’s largely dormant 2016 campaign website. No other details were offered.

To be sure, pinballing from one crisis to the next is not unprecedented, particularly for a White House still finding its footing. But the disruptions that have swirled around Trump achieved hurricane force early and have not let up.

On Wednesday his choice for labor secretary, fast food CEO Andy Puzder, withdrew his nomination while the administration continued to navigate the fallout from the forced resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was ousted on grounds that he misled the vice president about his contacts with a Russian ambassador.

Flynn’s departure marked the return of an issue Trump is not likely to move past quickly. The president’s relationship with Moscow will continue to be scrutinized and investigated, sometimes apparently fueled by leaks from within his own administration.

Trump on Wednesday blasted what he called “illegal leaked” information.

Not just leaks, but also legal woes, have derailed Trump’s early efforts.

After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his immigration ban last week, Trump emphatically tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT!” and the administration vowed that it would re-appeal the block and either revise its original executive order or write a new one from scratch.

But confusion soon followed. After first indicating they would not take a temporary restraining order request to the Supreme Court, administration staffers squabbled audibly, behind closed doors, over the accounts emerging in news reports.

When the dust settled, a new statement was printed out and handed to journalists, stating, “to clarify,” that all options were still on the table. But despite Trump’s vow to have a plan in place by Tuesday, one has not emerged.

The collapse of the ban, which poured fuel on simmering staff rivalries, was followed by a period of stark inaction by a White House suddenly put on the defensive. Trump did sign legislation Tuesday that rolled back a financial regulation, but his administration has not issued any executive orders in days.

House Republicans have been nudging the White House to get behind Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax overhaul, which includes a border adjustability plan of which Trump has been skeptical. GOP aides believed they were making progress, but the matter has been overshadowed by the flood of controversies.

Other possible executive actions have been bandied about, from a task force on allegations of voter fraud to steps to strengthen cybersecurity, but have yet to be released. Key legislative items such as a massive plan to rebuild roads and bridges and an overhaul of the tax law remain works in progress.

“He’s a one-man band for all practical purposes, it’s how he ran his business,” said Bill Daley, a former White House chief of staff under Obama. “When you try to take that and everything revolves around that and he is the beginning, middle and end of everything, that is a tough model. His campaign was the same way.”

Trump’s new administration has also been plagued by ethics brushfires that are taking up the time and energy of communications and legal staff members.

In one incident that sparked bipartisan condemnation and calls for ethics investigations, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on TV that people should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” — an endorsement that came after the president disparaged Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. And congressional Republicans also are demanding to know more about the security measures in place at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s weekend White House in Palm Beach, Florida, where resort members photographed him during a dinnertime national security strategy session after North Korea conducted a missile test.

“When you are the White House, every day is a crisis. Crisis is routine,” said Ari Fleischer, who was President George W. Bush’s first press secretary. “But when they all come right on top of each other, particularly at the start of an administration, it starts to create the feeling that they don’t know how to run the place.”




Israel leader’s White House trip clouded in uncertainty

FILE - In this Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Israel’s prime minister heads to Washington this week for a high-profile meeting with President Donald Trump that is suddenly clouded in uncertainty. After embracing Israel’s hard-line nationalist right throughout his presidential campaign, Trump appears to have softened some of his positions on key issues since taking office. (Gali Tibbon, Pool via AP, File)

FILE – In this Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Israel’s prime minister heads to Washington this week for a high-profile meeting with President Donald Trump that is suddenly clouded in uncertainty. After embracing Israel’s hard-line nationalist right throughout his presidential campaign, Trump appears to have softened some of his positions on key issues since taking office. (Gali Tibbon, Pool via AP, File)

JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister heads to Washington this week for a high-profile meeting with President Donald Trump that suddenly is clouded in uncertainty.

After embracing Israel’s hard-line nationalist right throughout his presidential campaign, Trump appears to have softened some of his positions on key issues since taking office.

Although Wednesday’s meeting is expected to be much warmer than Netanyahu’s famously tense encounters with former President Barack Obama, the Israeli leader will still need to tread with caution on sensitive issues like Israeli settlement construction and the conflict with the Palestinians, Iran and the war in Syria.

“It is a very important meeting. It is a new president,” said Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington. The “positive thing” is that Trump’s policies are still not set, he said, “so there is an opportunity to listen and to develop and to impact the strategy that is being developed in the United States.”

In dealing with such a divisive president, Netanyahu will also face some potential pitfalls. Key constituencies, including congressional Democrats and many American Jews, oppose Trump’s policies, while at home he is under pressure from his hard-line allies to push for policies that Trump may not support.

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu said he would handle ties with the U.S., Israel’s closest and most important ally, in a “prudent manner,” but he steered clear of specifics.

“The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong. It’s about to get even stronger. President Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region, but also on the opportunities,” Netanyahu said Monday as he boarded a plane to Washington.

Malcolm Hoenlein, a Jewish-American leader who has close ties with both Netanyahu and White House officials, said Netanyahu should set modest goals for his first working meeting with the new president. He said the objective should be to establish a good working relationship in order to tackle concrete issues down the road.

“What I hope will come out of the meeting is this kind of understanding, putting the foundation very firmly in place,” he said.

Here are some of the issues that are likely to come up:

SETTLEMENTS AND THE PALESTINIANS

After repeatedly clashing with Obama for eight years, capped by a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, Netanyahu seemed relieved by Trump’s arrival.

Trump’s campaign platform made no mention of a Palestinian state, and his inner circle included allies of the West Bank settler movement. The connections were so strong that a delegation of settler leaders was invited to Trump’s inauguration.

Netanyahu responded by approving construction of more than 6,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians — and allowing parliament to pass a law retroactively legalizing some 4,000 settlement homes built on private Palestinian land.

His political allies have urged him to go even further, suggesting he abandon the goal of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, step up settlement construction and even consider annexing parts of the West Bank. Such ideas would have been unthinkable during the Obama years.

“All the Cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu,” said Gilad Erdan, a Cabinet minister and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party.

But the hard-line euphoria may be premature. After initially greeting Israel’s settlement announcements with a shrug, Trump appears to be having second thoughts. In an interview with a pro-Netanyahu Israeli daily on Friday, Trump said: “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

Netanyahu may use the meeting to seek “understandings” as to what sort of construction will be tolerated. Backing from Trump could also help him fend off the pressure from his hard-line rivals.

THE U.S. EMBASSY

The U.S., like virtually all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv due to the conflicting claims to east Jerusalem.

Israel claims all of the city as its eternal capital while the Palestinians seek the eastern sector, captured by Israel in 1967, as their future capital. The status of east Jerusalem is especially sensitive because it is home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.

Trump took office vowing to scrap decades of U.S. policy and move the embassy to Jerusalem. But in recent weeks, he has been noncommittal, saying only that he is studying the issue.

The Palestinians have warned that moving the embassy would be explosive. Jordan, a key U.S. and Israeli ally that maintains custodial rights over Muslim holy sites in the city, has also strongly lobbied against the move.

While both men may pay lip service to an embassy move, it is unclear whether there will be any progress on the matter during the visit.

IRAN

Before taking office, Trump vowed to “rip up” the international deal that placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program. But since then, he has backed away from those threats, while seeking other ways to put pressure on the Iranian government.

Netanyahu led an unsuccessful campaign to scuttle the Iranian deal. Although that now seems impossible, Netanyahu will be looking for American assurances to keep Iran in check.

Dennis Ross, a former U.S. peace negotiator, said Netanyahu could seek promises of a U.S. “military response and not just a sanctions response” if Iran moves toward nuclear weapons capability.

Netanyahu is also worried about Iran’s involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria. With Russian backing, Iranian forces, and their Shiite proxy Hezbollah, have helped Syria gain the upper hand.

Ross said Netanyahu will ask Trump to use his influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep Iran and Hezbollah far from Israel’s borders.

“I think at a minimum that there would be an understanding that the Trump administration will insist with Putin that an Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite militia presence can’t go below a certain line within Syria,” Ross said.

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT

Netanyahu has long said that bipartisan support is the basis of Israel’s relationship with the U.S. Yet he is widely perceived as being much more in line with the Republicans.

One of his closest friends is Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, and his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, is a former Republican operative.

Cozying up to Republican figures, while repeatedly clashing with Obama, appears to have had a price. A recent poll by the market research firm YouGov found that Republicans had a much more favorable view of Israel than Democrats. With Jewish voters overwhelmingly Democratic, this perception could threaten traditional Jewish American support for Israel.

Netanyahu’s schedule includes meetings with top Democrats in Congress, a step that Hoenlein welcomed. “It is very important to send the bipartisan message,” he said.