WASHINGTON — The White House offered conflicting views Sunday of whether President Trump supports the Russia sanctions legislation in Congress, with his top spokesmen contradicting one another just days after launching plans for a more effective messaging strategy.

If Trump was hoping his communications shake-up would bring a fresh approach for a White House that has struggled to respond to a constant state of turmoil, the debut of the team on the Sunday political talk shows was a rough one. Adding to the confusion, one of Trump’s lawyers appeared to contradict his new top spokesman on whether Trump has been discussing his power to issue presidential pardons.

Trump’s top communication aides set out to try to present a united front two days after the president added New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director and promoted Sarah Huckabee Sanders to press secretary after Sean Spicer resigned unexpectedly.

Trump has fumed for months over the FBI probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia, angered that the nonstop media coverage has overshadowed his achievements and stalled his agenda.

But the key spokesmen appeared to be operating from different playbooks. Featured on competing Sunday shows, Sanders and Scaramucci contradicted one other on the Russia sanctions bill that congressional leaders announced over the weekend.

“The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary, and we support where the legislation is now.”


Asked about the sanctions almost simultaneously on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Scaramucci noted he’d only been on the job for a few days.

“You’ve got to ask President Trump that. My guess is that he’s going to make that decision shortly,” he said, adding that as far as he knew Trump “hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

The result was a team that still looked uncertain about how to characterize the president’s position on a significant matter that has been central to his first six months in office. The White House had opposed Congress’s initial attempt to impose additional economic sanctions on Moscow for its meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, raising questions over Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin amid the mounting FBI probe.

Later Sunday, a senior administration official, asked by The Washington Post to clarify the White House’s position, said that the bill’s latest version included additional economic sanctions on North Korea and addressed economic concerns raised by the U.S. business sector.

“The administration supports sanctions on Russia and Iran and supports the direction the bill is headed, but won’t weigh in conclusively until there is a final piece of legislation and no more changes are being made,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to explain the president’s thinking.

It was not just on the Russia sanctions bill that the White House’s messaging was muddled Sunday.


Last week, the Post reported that Trump and his legal team were exploring his powers to pardon aides, family members and, potentially, even himself as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues to oversee the Russia probe.

On “This Week,” one of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, said, “The president has the authority to pardon,” though he emphasized that Trump’s legal team has not even discussed that question with the president. “We have not, and I continue to not, have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons,” Sekulow said.

Sekulow’s comments, however, seem at odds with other members of Trump’s team. On “Fox News Sunday,” Scaramucci said he and the president had, in fact, discussed last week how far his pardoning authority extends.

“I’m in the Oval Office with the president last week, we’re talking about that – he brought that up,” Scaramucci said. But he added that Trump made clear that he “doesn’t have to be pardoned.”

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