President Donald Trump's controversial congratulatory phone call to Vladimir Putin, which was made despite the objections of his advisers, is causing considerable internal drama in the White House itself.
Trump is reportedly furious that the contents of his advisers' warning was leaked, given that only a few staffers close to the president could have known about it, according to Axios. As one White House official fumed, "This is the way Trump is. If he’s doing business with you or working with you in some way, he’s going to congratulate you."
The official added, "The idea he’s being soft on Russia is crap. He approved Javelin missiles to Ukraine, closed the consulate in San Francisco, approved the sanctions. . . . But . . . he doesn’t want his personal relationship [with Putin] to be acrimonious."
Axios speculated that the motives behind the leak could include "concern about how Trump is handling Putin, frustration by the officials about Trump ignoring their advice, or internal power games."
The underlying controversy is that the president ignored a note on his briefing materials that warned him "DO NOT CONGRATULATE," in addition to talking points that urged him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy believed to have been orchestrated by Moscow, according to The Washington Post. Trump later told reporters that it had been a "very good call" and that "we’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future," although Sarah Huckabee Sanders later emphasized that nothing specific is planned.
The president's congratulatory message prompted a scathing rebuke from one of his foremost Republican critics, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," McCain declared in a statement. "And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country's future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin's regime."