Trump Leads Scattered Strategy on Impeachment

President has resisted setting up structured pushback effort, instead relying on his own tweets and help of outside groups

Faced with impeachment proceedings, President Trump hasn’t set up a dedicated White House “war room” to guide his pushback against congressional Democrats running the investigation, instead making clear he is leading the charge.

As the House inquiry intensifies into whether Mr. Trump inappropriately used his office to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating a political rival, the president has once again assumed the role of chief spokesman, blasting tweet after tweet, while also relying on his campaign, the Republican National Committee and outside attorneys. The loosely organized approach fits a freewheeling style Mr. Trump thrives on.

But while some allies defend his strategy, others question if more discipline is required in light of such a serious threat. Mr. Trump’s unpredictable side may keep adversaries off guard and drive news cycles, but it can leave his staff scrambling to react.

His recent tweets have put Republican lawmakers in a difficult position, with calls to expose and question the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry and the suggestion that a congressman leading the probe be arrested for treason. He has promoted talk of a civil war.

Pompeo Acknowledges He Was on Trump-Zelensky Phone Call

Pompeo Acknowledges He Was on Trump-Zelensky Phone Call
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed for the first time Wednesday that he listened in on the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a House impeachment inquiry. Photo: Associated Press/Andrew Medichini

“He’s not taking full advantage of the White House’s ability to set and shape the daily narrative,” said GOP consultant Alex Conant, who led communications for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign and served as a spokesman in the second Bush White House. “These are missed opportunities at a critical time.”

For now, Mr. Trump has made clear that he is embracing a no-holds-barred message, seeking to discredit the whistleblower and House Democrats and floating an extraordinary conspiracy theory. “As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People,

  • their VOTE,
  • their Freedoms,
  • their Second Amendment,
  • Religion,
  • Military,
  • Border Wall,”

he wrote in a tweet Tuesday night.

During the special counsel’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, the White House beefed up its legal team and assigned a communications aide to the response effort. Mr. Trump continues to weigh his options, but his outside attorney Jay Sekulow said on his radio show this week that there was no call for a war room of political, legal and communications staff, like President Clinton had when he faced impeachment.

Mr. Sekulow said the White House handled the Russia probe “without the institutionalization of a war room,” adding that “this is a skirmish in comparison.”

Some people close to the president also suggested that establishing a formal strategy is akin to admitting they have a political problem.

Mr. Trump “has done nothing wrong,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said when asked about the strategy, adding the administration wouldn’t “let partisan games and the media’s hysteria take away from President Trump and his administration’s work on behalf of the American people.”

Democrats defend the impeachment effort as a necessary check on presidential power.

Mr. Trump and his allies are “lying through their teeth to distract from a gross abuse of power,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said. “The evidence is his own words. We hope Trump’s strategy continues to be one that incriminates himself.”

Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to President George W. Bush, said Mr. Trump is his best spokesman and credited response efforts from the Republican National Committee, but added the overall effort should be enhanced and the message more focused.

“At the end of the day, the Clinton people said you can’t impeach somebody who lied about sex. Pretty simple, straightforward and easy to remember,” Mr. Fleischer said. “With Trump, I think the story is Democrats are trying to impeach somebody because he won. This is not about the Ukraine call. This is about who he is.”

Mr. Trump’s campaign is trying to turn the attention on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. During the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump raised a discredited claim that while vice president, Mr. Biden sought the removal of Ukraine’s prosecutor general to protect his son, who was on the board of a company whose owner the prosecutor had investigated.

Flush with recent donations—$8.5 million alone in the 48 hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry—the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee spent $10 million in the past week on television ads about the Bidens and impeachment, targeting House Democrats who won in districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016. Online ads are pushing similar messages.

Ever focused on his news coverage, the president was generally pleased with his surrogates on Sunday news shows this week, said people familiar with his thinking. One said that Mr. Trump was less focused on internal White House organizational charts and more interested in an aggressive messaging effort on television, saying he wants to see “who’s on TV defending our position and fighting to level out the playing field and get our message across.”

A former White House official put it more bluntly, saying the response was “a disorganized mess, and it seems that’s what Trump wants.”