White House officials privately acknowledge that President Donald Trump has handled the questions about foreign interference in American elections poorly in the days since his interview with ABC News aired, multiple sources told CNN on Friday.
A source close to the White House said there was frustration inside the White House and among the President’s political advisers with press secretary Sarah Sanders’ handling of the ABC interview prior to the announcement of her departure.
“The clips from the last few days have been tough,” the adviser said.
In an interview with ABC that aired Wednesday evening, Trump said he would accept dirt on political rivals from foreign governments. The nonchalant answer may not have been surprising, but was nonetheless a stark admission from the President given Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and frequent warnings about foreign intervention in the 2020 contest.
When asked by ABC if he would report an offer of damaging information on a political rival to the FBI, Trump said, “I think I’d want to hear it.”
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.”
That led to days of criticism from Democratic politicians and even some of the President’s fellow Republicans. And then on Thursday, Trump announced Sanders is stepping down at the end of the month to return to Arkansas with her family. He praised her service. The interview was not mentioned as a potential reason for her departure.
Still, the ABC interview was an “issue” for Sanders, the adviser said. One White House official even questioned the wisdom of giving such extensive access to the network.
But the decision to grant the interview was ultimately Trump’s, the official said.
Officials do not believe that the fallout has been significant. Instead they view it as being largely limited to Democrats and the media, discounting dissent from some Republican lawmakers.
Officials do not believe the controversy will penetrate to the President’s base,
“It’s not something that most Trump supporters will take literally,” one aide said.
On Twitter this afternoon, Trump seemed to thank Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, for defending him against the criticism and blocking a Senate motion for unanimous consent on a bill that would require campaigns to notify the FBI if a foreign government offers them political assistance.
“Thank you @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell for understanding the Democrats game of not playing it straight on the ridiculous Witch Hunt Hoax in the Senate,” Trump wrote.