Phoning his attorneys and other confidantes from behind his desk on Air Force One, Trump sought more details about what precisely the Southern District of New York wanted to know from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer who is so close to the President he once appeared on “The Apprentice.”
“They’re dying to see us make a little bit of a mistake,” Trump lamented Thursday from inside a Granite City, Illinois, steel plant, where he was hoping to exult in positive economic news in front of a supportive crowd. Aides said they organized the tour hoping to spotlight policies that have helped boost American manufacturing. Privately, some also concede getting Trump on the road is a way to distract him from the persistent drip-drip of the Russia investigation.
But even in the heartland, his mind turned again to his troubles back home. Glaring at a row of television cameras, he mimicked his media critics and flashed irritation at the spotlight that comes with his office.
“These people, they analyze every single word and they follow us,” he complained, describing an experience that every president in the age of television has endured. “The good news is: we can get the word out.”
Later, a White House spokesman suggested the ban was Trump’s own doing.
“The President does feel strongly about this,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said when asked whether Trump ordered his new communications chief Bill Shine and press secretary Sarah Sanders to execute the decision. The move drew widespread outcry.
His longtime friend Larry Kudlow, now serving as the top White House economic adviser, said the positive economic news — paired with a preliminary agreement with the European Union to lower trade barriers — had the President in a cheery mood.
“Very positive. Upbeat. All upbeat,” was Kudlow’s description of the President’s frame of mind on Friday morning — despite a series of tweets from the President two hours earlier decrying the Russia matter and his now-estranged former attorney.
“So the Fake News doesn’t waste my time with dumb questions, NO, I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr,” he wrote. “Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam.”
The collusion matter was still on his mind hours later when he phoned his friend Sean Hannity for an impromptu radio interview and raised the issue unprompted.
“There is a lot of corruption out there but it happens to be on the other side of the ledger. If you talk about collusion, the collusion is there. There’s no question about it. But it’s with the Democrats and Russia,” he said. “All you have to do is look at what they did and how they participated with Russia. It’s a disgraceful situation.”
Trump advisers say it’s little surprise the Russia investigation, and its ancillary subplots, remains a preoccupying distraction for the President. Cohen, who for years acted as Trump’s personal attorney, has shown he’s willing to take his split with the President public in sensational fashion. That includes approving the release of an audio tape this week featuring Trump discussing a payment to a former Playboy centerfold.
Weisselberg, however, could prove even more damaging to the President. A former Trump Organization employee told CNN that Weisselberg being subpoenaed as part of the Cohen probe is the “ultimate nightmare scenario for Trump” because Weisselberg knows “anything and everything” about the finances of the Trump Organization.
“It’s getting closer and closer to his inner circle,” a Republican close to the White House said when asked about Trump’s mood. “How do you think he feels?”
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.