White House officials offered virtually no support or guidance for Republicans on Capitol Hill about how they should respond to the deluge of controversies surrounding President Trump this week, leaving even those who have wanted to defend the president to do so on their own.
After the Justice Department named a special counsel on Wednesday to oversee an investigation into allegations of collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign, the tense mood among Republicans relaxed considerably. But GOP lawmakers and aides say they still got silence from the White House over how to approach the latest twist.
"There's been no talking points that have been put out by the White House at all," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told the Washington Examiner on Thursday. "The White House has not instructed, to my knowledge, any member of Congress what to say, but just to do what we've all campaigned on, and that's to fulfill our promise."
Another Republican House member said he had received "nothing" from the White House in the way of messaging guidance.
And conversations with a dozen GOP congressional aides in both the House and Senate on Thursday revealed the sense of frustration that developed after members spent more than a week attempting to navigate the most recent string of leaks and controversies to plague the White House — all without the help of the president's team.
"We just sort of formulate a response on our own," said one House aide. "The communication from them is just terrible."
That aide said the White House's detachment is not limited to the explosion of controversies that followed former FBI Director James Comey's ouster last week.
"That's on everything" from executive orders to bills, the aide said. "It's so disorganized."
Several congressional staffers said the White House team has, in the past, emailed statements or press releases related to the administration's message of the day. But many aides admitted that the West Wing's guidance did not go beyond what it was already telling reporters and often did not hit their inboxes until the media had already received the same information.
For example, one House GOP office said the extent of the White House's outreach Wednesday evening — when the dramatic eight-day series of events reached its zenith — involved simply forwarding along Trump's three-sentence written statement about the appointment of a special counsel. The statement was also circulated widely among reporters and the public.
"We get daily messaging points, but they boil down to public statements," another aide said. "I don't even find it that helpful."
The White House disputed suggestions that administration officials have not offered sufficient support to Republicans in Congress.
"The Hill is provided with regular briefings, talking points — there is absolute coordination between the White House and the Hill in terms of providing them with the relevant information and talking points," a White House official told the Washington Examiner.
"Overall, we have regular briefings with communicators on the Hill as well as members on the Hill to ensure they are informed of the messaging," the official said.
Sets of White House talking points that were provided to members of Congress and shared with the Washington Examiner as examples showed that at least some GOP lawmakers do receive regular updates from the West Wing. Recent talking points included just three lines refuting reports that Trump asked Comey to drop the FBI investigation into Gen. Mike Flynn, as well as a reminder of "criminal leaks" that have dogged the administration.
Multiple congressional staffers said they had received more guidance about how to promote the president's policies from outside groups — such as the National Republican Congressional Committee — than from the White House itself. That left lawmakers to decide individually how they were going to discuss the president's latest headaches with the media.
None of the aides or lawmakers interviewed for this story were aware of a single instance in which the White House arranged for a congressional ally to appear on television to defend the president this week. However, most conceded that it was possible the White House kept lines of communication open with specific offices — just not their own.
Trump's team appeared to regain its footing on Thursday in the wake of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's decision to name Robert Mueller, former FBI director, as special counsel in the Russian collusion probe. The move put distance between Trump and the allegation that he sought to influence the investigation of Flynn, and it quieted criticism from opponents who had accused the administration of attempting to evade scrutiny.
White House officials hope the president's first trip overseas, which begins on Friday, will allow the embattled president to reset his agenda and return to a calmer, more productive Washington.