Photo: William Moon

Mixed messages from the White House podium could be heard today. Condolences coupled with an expulsion of Russian spies, slash diplomates marked an unusually quiet day in Washington D.C.

An early morning conference call has been called on Monday morning on the subject of national security at the White House. In a carefully chosen sequence of messages, the White House official started his prepared announcement by sharing his personal condolences to the Russian people, the victims of this weekend’s fire in Kemerovo.  “The news is heartbreaking. And to the family and friends of those who were lost, you have our deepest sympathies,” he said.

Highlighting his intention to draw a distinction between the Russian people and the Russian government, the White House official called out Kremlin for  “a reckless attempt to murder a British citizen and his daughter on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent.”

The punchline was forthcoming: ”with today’s action, we are removing a large number of the unacceptably numerous Russian intelligence officers who abide in the United States.  This reduces Russia’s ability to spy on American citizens, conduct covert operations on our soil, and threaten our national security.”

After the briefing was conducted, President Trump did not tweet anything, and in the half-empty White House Briefing room, the press corps were commenting on how unusually quiet the White House had been for the few past days.  Trump is definitely laying low, whether it be because of Stormy Daniels, the Russians, or both, yet, his usual twitter storm was absent today.

At the Daily Press Briefing, Sander’s deputy, Raj Shah took to the podium to share the same sequence of announcements: first the condolences and then the expulsion of the Russian spies statement. Call it Raj’s style, but his press briefings are far less contentious than Sanders’ and he was able to deflate the press corps swiftly. The briefing was not only unusually low-key but it also ended quickly.

The White House also made sure to state on camera that “we want to work with Russia.  We have areas of mutual concern where we can work with them. Again, I mentioned counterterrorism.  There’s general global stability and other matters where we can — we want to work with Russia. But that ball is in their court.  It is up to them on whether we’re going to have a fruitful and constructive relationship or an adversarial relationship.”

Trump is strategically playing the dynamics of the news cycle

Last week, the biggest news was the resignation of the National Security Adviser, H.R.McMaster. The cable networks were competing over who would make a more bombastic headline qualifying the developments as a “major shake-up”. However, on Monday, there were no questions on McMaster, as the news, according to the press corps, had died out.

While the legal team of the porn actress Stormy Daniels hoped that her interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes would be a bombshell, the story did not really pick up at the press briefing with Raj Shah. A brief question was raised on Stormy Daniels’ claims of a physical threat made against her when she was with her daughter back in 2011.

To that, Raj Shah stated that “the President doesn’t believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate”. While he reiterated that the President does not believe her, it’s not really up to the president to validate her credibility, but to her lawyer to showcase the evidence that will now be brought into the court.

We have yet to see if Anderson Cooper’s forecast that there’s more to come on this story”, will come true. Based on what we saw in the Press Briefing today, I would not bet my money on it.

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