Report: John Kelly encouraged congressional Republicans to criticize Trump over Helsinki comments

The way Gabriel Sherman describes it here, I don’t think “encouraged” is too strong a word. It wasn’t a case, apparently, of Republicans on the Hill phoning Kelly and sounding him out about them saying something critical of Trump to distance the party from his Putinphilia. It was a matter of Kelly phoning them and nudging them to let him have it.

This should just about finish off the John Kelly era as chief of staff, with his one-year anniversary just two weeks away. If he’s this mad about what happened, why the hell didn’t he resign last night or today and make a statement? Trump’s probably going to can him anyway once he reads Sherman’s report.

As he flew home from Helsinki on Air Force One following his disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump reacted with surprise at the horror and outrage that was being expressed by much of the American political world. By the time he landed, the surprise had turned to anger. “He was enraged there was a lack of people out there defending him,” one Republican close to the White House told me. The mood among West Wing advisers was downright funereal. “This was the nightmare scenario,” another Republican in frequent contact with the administration said…

While National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to a source, thought Trump’s remarks were ill-advised, he believed that walking them back would only add fuel to the outrage pyre and make the president look weak. 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. 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. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan held televised press conferences to assert that Russia did meddle in the election.

Kelly probably figured, with some reason, that a rare display of public pressure from Ryan and McConnell would nudge Trump towards walking his comments back — which he did with this afternoon’s Costanza-esque “I said ‘would’ when I meant to say ‘wouldn’t'” spin. The problem is that Trump walkbacks never stay walked-back for very long. He has a history of undoing his own (rare) clean-up attempts after making a mess, as I noted earlier, once the cronies and MAGA true believers start working him on privately to be himself and never back down. Bannon and Lewandowski are probably on the phone with him as I write this encouraging him to get a bust of Putin for the Oval Office.

Democrat Mark Warner told CNN today that he expects Trump to reverse his reversal on Russian interference within 24 hours, which is almost certainly wrong. It won’t take that long. In fact, as I write this at 7 p.m. ET, we’re just an hour away from his pre-taped interview with Tucker Carlson, in which Trump no doubt felt comfortable and confident across from a very friendly interviewer. Chances are he ended up riffing off-the-cuff about his favorite hobbyhorses. He may well have walked back his “clarification” about believing U.S. intelligence about Russian interference before this post even goes live.

“I don’t accept the President’s comments today,” Warner said. “If he wanted to make those comments, he should have had the strength to make them in front of Vladimir Putin.”…

“My feeling is this has a strange resemblance to the President’s comments after he was so offensive to the disturbances in Charlottesville that he equated the Neo-nazis with the protesters,” he said.

Warner continued: “He then walked back those comments a couple of days later for about twelve hours before he got on another Fox TV show or tweeted again. So, I give these comments about twenty four hours before he once again slams the investigation, before he once again sided with authoritarians like Vladimir Putin.”

Come to think of it, didn’t he already sort of walk back his alleged newfound belief in Russian interference in 2016 in his Costanza statement this afternoon? Not all the way back, perhaps, but at least a few steps:

“Could be other people also.” That’s the best you’re going to get from him. And for congressional Republicans who watched Trump’s half-hearted clarification praying for any sort of cover that would let them say “It’s over now, let’s move on,” it’s enough:

Here’s CNN this afternoon aghast that POTUS might think Americans are so gullible as to believe that that entire performance yesterday alongside Putin was due to one mistaken slip of the tongue. Um, lots of Americans are gullible enough to believe that. Motivated reasoning is the marvel of our age.