A new report from Vanity Fair claims that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was so incensed by President Donald Trump's joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he encouraged Republican members of Congress to publicly critique Trump's performance.
According to Vanity Fair, Trump's top advisers were shocked by the president's statements exonerating Putin from meddling in American elections, even though Trump himself seemed "proud" of how he'd handled the press conference.
"He was enraged there was a lack of people out there defending him,” one Republican source close the White House reportedly told VF. “This was the nightmare scenario,” said another.
National Security Adviser John Bolton objected to Trump's statements, but suggested, allegedly, that the White House remain mum on the issue, telling the president's staff that an abrupt turnaround on statements made in the press conference might make the president look weak. But, Vanity Fair says Kelly had other ideas.
"But Chief of Staff John Kelly was irate. According to a source, he told Trump it would make things worse for him with Robert Mueller," the magazine reports. "He also exerted pressure to try to get the president to walk back his remarks. According to three sources familiar with the situation, Kelly called around to Republicans on Capitol Hill and gave them the go-ahead to speak out against Trump."
And speak up they did — nearly everyone from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to the hosts of "Fox & Friends" openly criticized the president; Trump found few defenders, and even then, only among his die-hard fans. The White House then scheduled a statement to Congress Tuesday, where the president walked back and "clarified" much of what he said during the press conference in Helsinki, Finland.
Most Republicans immediately congratulated the president and thanked him for his crucial corrections, a chorus that was also, probably, the result of White House pressure.
Trump responds well to outside pressure. He wants to be liked and respected, not just by the public, but also by his peers. Kelly is hardly the first to use fellow members of the GOP and the media to force the president to make a 180 turn on policy, but this may be the first time Trump has pushed back. Wednesday morning, Trump further "clarified" his position, ultimately suggesting his initial position on Russian election interference was his true position.