2019-11-12 17:18:441 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
It was bound to happen that the impeachment inquiry would cause the Trump administration to have infighting with officials, advisers, aides, and diplomats turning on each other, especially after some of them have already testified.
White House and congressional officials speaking anonymously have said that Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has requested that aides not comply with requests for them to testify, and he’s blocked any cooperation with House Democrats. Aides from the Office of Management and Budget, a department he led before taking over as acting chief of staff, is following his orders, but he’s blaming White Hosue counsel Pat Cipollone for not stopping the others who have participated.
For his part, Cipollone is upset with Mulvaney, believing he worsened the situation when he publicly acknowledged Donald Trump’s quid pro quo, confirming the basis for the impeachment inquiry. He didn’t even want him to hold a news conference, yet he was prepared for it by other White House attorneys, and no one ever said he shouldn’t do it, according to a Mulvaney aide.
Without impeachment experience, the White House is hiring a staff to work on the inquiry, with it moving to public hearings on Wednesday.
“This will be the toughest political fight this White House has faced. They need to be sure they are totally focused and that all their fire is pointed outward — not at each other,” said GOP strategist Michael Steel, a former top aide to former House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH).
Making things worse for Mulvaney is that he’s seen as one of the key players behind the shadow Ukraine policy, asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Trump’s political rivals in exchange for a White House visit and military aid. Yet, he wants to join a separation-of-powers lawsuit filing by a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton, upsetting Bolton allies.
The lawsuit is asking a judge if Charles Kupperman can be forced to obey a congressional subpoena. Mulvaney skipped out on his request to appear on Friday but withdrew his request to join the lawsuit and said he would file his own.
There’s also turmoil in the OMB after it played an important role in blocking the military aid for Ukraine. The turmoil has caused several high-level staffers to resign over the past year. The staffers are upset that the OMB political staffers overruled their concerns about withholding the military aid, according to former agency officials.
“Everyone was freaked out because it so violated the norms of OMB,” said one former longtime staffer. This is putting staff on the line. One of them, Mark Sandy, was asked to testify on Friday but skipped out.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied that there was any trouble within the administration. “We are one team, and we work well together,” she said. “The palace intrigue stories are false, and they need to stop.”
That’s not the line out of the White House, though, with a senior official stating Trump has been complaining about his legal team, wanting them to be more aggressive in defending him. While he released a letter saying the White House was not going to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, he hasn’t done much to keep others in line.
“Those who have aligned with the president and followed the president’s instincts on not to cooperate have been successful and been that firewall,” said the official, noting that Cipollone “has been pretty weak in ensuring people are on lockdown.”
Another bone of contention between Mulvaney and Cipollone was the hire of former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). He was hired to be part of Trump’s impeachment defense team. Mulvaney advocated for his House colleague Gowdy, also a longtime friend, to join the White House counsel.
Ultimately, Gowdy wouldn’t be able to start until January because of federal lobbying rules, but Cipollone was against the hire. Congressional GOP have accused the counsel of being territorial and wanted Gowdy on the team after his work leading the investigation of the Benghazi attack.
“Each wants to be in charge of impeachment,” said one Senate Republican aide. “Cipollone seems more like he’s protecting his turf than anything else. ... He doesn’t want any competition.”
Cipollone isn’t doing enough to keep Mulvaney and others informed. His office released the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call, and it was a move that Mulvaney was against. He didn’t know ahead of time, and neither did his staff or some of the White House press office.
“This impeachment trial is going to be here before the White House knows it, and they’re not even remotely prepared for it,” complained the Senate Republican aide. “What they need desperately is leadership to get ready, but until Mulvaney and Cipollone put aside their petty squabbles and start working together, all they’ll have is tweets.”
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