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Trump faced a PR crisis after the Putin summit this week — and whose advice he took is anyone’s guess

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Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
Mark
Wilson/Getty Images


  • President Donald Trump faced a public relations crisis
    following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin this
    week.
  • In watching the week’s events transpire, a former
    senior administration official told Business Insider it was
    unclear to them whose, if anyone’s, advice the president was
    taking regarding the fallout from the summit.
  • “In situations like this when he gets into bunker mode,
    he kind of goes back to his true believers like [Corey]
    Lewandowski, David Bossie, and his old friends like Chris Ruddy
    and Tom Barrack,” another former administration official told
    Business Insider. 

It was just after mid-morning on the East Coast on Monday, and
President Donald Trump had a public relations crisis on his
hands.

He had just completed a press conference alongside Russian
President Vladimir Putin that had followed an hours-long private meeting between the
two in Helsinki, Finland. And his answers caused widespread alarm
and outrage across the Atlantic.

During the press
conference, Trump cast doubt on the US intelligence
community’s assessment
 that Russia
interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. He also attacked
his Democratic opponents and the FBI, and said he held both
countries accountable for the state of their relations.

“My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan
Coats came to me, some others — they said they think it’s
Russia,” Trump said of election interference. “I have President
Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see
any reason why it would be.”

He cited Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denials of such
interference. And he seemed to endorse a plan Putin proposed that
would allow special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to work with
Russian investigators to question 12 Russians indicted
last week
 in the investigation into Russian
election meddling
.

Within hours, Democrats and Republicans, pundits,
intelligence officials, and others were condemning the remarks.
The word “treason” was floating around social media. People were
speculating whether Putin had some sort of leverage over Trump
that was making him behave in this manner.

A day later, Trump offered up a small correction to his
comments. 

Trump said he misspoke alongside Putin and actually meant to say
the opposite of what he said — that he didn’t see any reason why
it “wouldn’t” be Russia who interfered in the election.

But Trump made some adjustments to the
written statement he read aloud,
 adding that the
meddlers “could be other people also.”

The fallout continued. In the days that followed, the White House
said Putin’s pitch to Trump — one he seemed intrigued by —
involving turning over American citizens to the Russians for
questioning was in fact something the president disagreed with.
Meanwhile, the press went back and forth with the White House
over the meaning of a “no” Trump said when a reporter asked
whether he felt Russians were actively trying to influence US
elections.

To cap it all off, the White House announced late in the week
that the wheels were in motion on getting Putin to visit
Washington, DC.

‘When he gets into bunker mode, he kind of goes back to his true
believers’

One question that seemed natural following the week was whose
advice, if anyone’s, was Trump taking in handling this episode.

In watching the week’s events transpire, a former senior
administration official told Business Insider it was unclear to
them whose, if anyone’s, advice the president was taking
regarding the fallout from the summit.

In recent months, it has been reported that Trump has
increasingly been acting alone when faced with such crises,
passing on the advice of some of his top staffers. In March, The
New York Times reported that Trump “now
believes he has settled into the job enough to rely on” his
instincts “rather than the people who advise him.”


Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Donald
Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Chris
McGrath/Getty Images


In April, the Associated Press reported
that Trump was tuning out the advice of his staff as a result of
both personnel changes and his own attitude toward the job. One
big moment was the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, who
was accused of spousal abuses by both of his ex-wives. Trump had
viewed Porter as “an honest broker” who would “make sure”
different opinions were being “faithfully presented to him.”

Another former Trump administration official told Business
Insider that at the moment, the person within the White House who
has the most influence with Trump in regards to advice on how to
handle such a crisis is Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive
who was recently hired as deputy chief of staff for
communications.

As the AP reported in April, Fox News can sometimes be a place
where Trump finds opinions he considers to be in his best
interest moreso than within his own White House, and Shine’s
high-profile position at the network lends him additional
credibility with the president.

More often, however, Trump goes outside the building when seeking
advice, this former staffer said.

“In situations like this when he gets into bunker mode, he kind
of goes back to his true believers like [Corey] Lewandowski,
David Bossie, and his old friends like Chris Ruddy and Tom
Barrack,” the person said. 

This week, the president did appear to accept some internal
advice. In a private conversation with the president, Vice
President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged him
to clarify his remarks from the Putin press conference, NBC News reported. He made his
clarification soon after.

“I think the advice and decision to try to clean up the press
conference was correct, and the president was smart to allow it,”
he said. “But the route to walking back the press conference was
never going to run through something as simple as a double
negative and an apostrophe. It should have included a stronger
recitation of the president’s tough record on Russia, and a
reaffirmation of his views on American exceptionalism.”

The president, and the administration at large, he said, needs to
“think in terms of legacy, not news cycles.”

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