White House Struggles To Answer GOP Questions On Capitol Hill

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 5/17/2017, 2:45 p.m.
The back-to-back controversies threatened to further erode the credibility of the White House
Cleveland, Ohio and the GOP hosts the 2016 Republican National Convention.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the White House rushed to contain the fallout on Capitol Hill during a head-spinning week of controversies, one senator resorted to mime to describe his reaction.

He mimicked a cat, claws out, hanging on for dear life by clinging to a tree.

"We're all just like this," the senator told CNN, shaking his head.

"It's crazy," another senator whispered after giving a more diplomatic response about how lawmakers were handling the overwhelming pace of seemingly daily bombshell news developments. "Just crazy."

On Monday, The Washington Post reported he shared highly classified intelligence with Russian officials. A day later, the White House sought to push back against those reports, dispatching high-ranking administration officials to try containing the fallout.

Before dinnertime on Tuesday, the subject in Washington had changed yet again. But Trump's advisers could hardly call it a success, with the West Wing suddenly grappling with another firestorm: Whether the President asked FBI Director James Comey to close the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The back-to-back controversies threatened to further erode the credibility of the White House, which was already diminishing. The prospect of more drama -- Comey being called to testify, along with confirmation hearings for a new FBI director -- could fill the air for weeks or months.

"This weekly scandal, weekly controversy is unhealthy for the country," Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, told reporters Tuesday night. "It's a major distraction for the Congress and it's just bad for the psyche of every American."

'Wholly appropriate'

The White House started the day hoping to "calm Republicans on the Hill," one administration official said, with national security adviser H.R. McMaster coming to the White House briefing room to repeatedly say the President's actions were "wholly appropriate."

Other high-ranking administration officials were assigned specific members of Congress to reach out to, offering individual explanations of the story.

One official described it to CNN as an "all-hands-on-deck" push to correct the record and add context to the latest Trump administration bombshell. Another official describes the full-court press as an example of lessons learned from the firing of Comey, with an effort to swiftly answer as many questions as possible for members of Congress.

The White House calls also extended to other influential voices across Washington, with an urgent mission to try and turn around the story in hopes of minimizing fallout before the President leaves the country on Friday.

But once again, Washington whiplash. The day ended with even more questions about the ability of the President and his advisers to rise above another cloud.

"We have not done ourselves any favors by picking those earlier fights with the intelligence agencies," one administration official acknowledged to CNN, crestfallen at the seemingly endless controversies facing the White House.

'What more will there be?'

The feedback from Capitol Hill has been brutal, two officials said, with several members of Congress and staffers bluntly offering concern at the notion Trump may have shared classified information. Even before the latest Comey fallout, one administration official described a common refrain from lawmakers as: "Good Lord, it's one more thing. What more will there be?"