Three days after the Donald Trump Jr. email revelations broke, the White House seems stuck in purgatory, with aides still deeply unsure about who leaked the damaging information, and the president still yelling at the TV.
Theories on suspected leakers have ranged from Trump’s own family members and senior aides to Congressional overseers to Trump-hating law enforcement officials and members of the bureaucratic “deep state.”
A cascade of stories on Trump Jr.’s attempt to solicit dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer with ties to state security services set off a new round of questions over Trump campaign communications—and potential collusion with—Russian government agents.
In the White House, and among the president’s outside allies, the question was the same one that has animated Trump’s staff throughout the seemingly unending string of damaging Russia stories: who leaked it?
The news sent many of President Trump’s closest advisers, confidants, and aides into a state of frantic finger-pointing and evidence-free speculation over who could have possibly been among the “three advisers to the White House” who ratted Junior out to the Times.
Some within the president’s political inner circle reflexively suspected senior White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his legal team. Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had joined Trump Jr. for a meeting with the Russian attorney.
Kushner’s lawyers, The New York Times reported, discovered the Trump Jr. emails—which were forwarded to Kushner and Manafort—in recent weeks during document review, conjecturing that President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser had intel on the meeting leaked to the Times as an act of preemptive ass-covering.
It’s a theory and tale of intra-family backstabbing that has gained traction on pro-Trump, right-wing, and alt-right media sites—which often baselessly blames Kushner for things—but is seen as straight-up laughable to Kushner and his allies, as well as others in the White House.
“So dumb,” one White House official told The Daily Beast, when asked about Kushner-related suspicions among colleagues. “Why would he jump under the bus just to screw someone who doesn’t even work in the administration? It’s absurd.”
Republican provocateur Roger Stone fueled the speculation on Wednesday when he claimed to know who the leaker was, and “their initials are J.K.” Stone is a longtime Trump ally, and has accused Kushner of leaking in the past, but his continued knowledge of and influence on internal White House workings is questionable.
Other senior Trump administration officials have gossiped that Manafort himself could be behind the leak. Some officials jokingly suggested the president himself was the culprit, only to concede that “these days, who knows?” one aide said.
“Could [Corey] Lewandowski have done this?” was yet another zany theory hurled around internally on Tuesday, hypothesizing perhaps someone forwarded the emails to the ousted campaign manager.
The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment on this story. A spokesman for Manafort declined to speak on the record. Lewandowski sent The Daily Beast directly to voicemail.
Other advisers aimed their rudderless suspicions on people working on Senate and House intelligence committees, who could have somehow gotten their hands on Don Jr.’s emails. Others speculated that anti-Trump elements operating within the Justice Department could be a source, if not agents of the pro-establishment, Trump-trashing national-security “deep state,” a favorite target of Team Trump’s.
Since Sunday, The New York Times has published multiple bombshells detailing how Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner attended a meeting for which Hillary Clinton dirt directly from the Russian government was promised. In an email to Trump Jr., a friend offered to connect the then Republican candidate’s son to a “Russian government attorney” who could relay “very high level and sensitive information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“I love it,” Trump Jr. responded in writing. He forwarded the email to Kushner and Manafort.
President Donald Trump’s eldest son has repeatedly confirmed these detail in his subsequent statements—admissions that, at the very least, severely complicate a year’s worth of Team Trump denying any hint of Russia-related collusion.
The initial leak immediately sent shockwaves through the halls of the Trump White House, which included senior officials venting about Trump Jr. as a complete “idiot,” as The Daily Beast reported on Tuesday afternoon. The president himself was also conspicuously quiet on the matter for days before issuing tepid comments and tweets ostensibly supporting his first-born son.
But so far, no one in Trump-world seems to be anywhere closer to ascertaining the identities of the “traitors,” as one Trump confidant phrased it, in their midsts.
The president himself, while not exactly pleased with his son’s actions, is less fixated on leaker theories at the moment than he is about privately, publicly, and on social media railing against negative media and cable-TV coverage of the situation and what he would erroneously deems “Fake News!”
“The W.H. is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things. I have very little time for watching T.V.” @realDonaldTrump tweeted on Wednesday morning, just a half-hour after a Washington Post reporter said on MSNBC that Trump has been watching a lot of television coverage of the scandal over the past few days.
The president’s suggestion that he is not current absorbing all that much TV these days contradicts what several White House sources have noted about Trump’s regular television consumption habits: Mainly, that ever since taking office, the 45th president of the United States spends way too much time watching cable news—Fox News, naturally, being a favored, and friendly, network—and obsessing over coverage and media personalities.
Officials reached by The Daily Beast spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the president’s TV hate-watching habits, or internal West Wing strife.
As other news outlets have noted as well, President Trump has a tendency to also yell at his TV screens in the White House, and scowl and angrily comment as he watches news segments he finds disagreeable.
This is especially true with Trump-Russia stories. When asked if the president was still hissing at the TV this week over the televised Trump Jr. coverage, one White House official confirmed that the president was still taking out his Russia-related frustrations on an inanimate object while bitterly watching the news.
“Yes,” the aide replied. “Very much…Growling.”