This Senior White House Official Sounds Like a Child Impersonating a Cop

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The tempest over President Donald Trump's congratulatory phone call to Vladimir Putin quickly grew on Thursday into an uproar over White House leaks, sparking an internal investigation and speculation over who might be the next person Trump forces out of the West Wing.

Trump had called Putin on Tuesday to congratulate him on his re-election.

The official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that aides had included a section in Trump's briefing materials for the call stating in all-caps: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE".

The Russian statement forced the hand of the White House, where advisers had disagreed on whether to include Trump's congratulations in the official US account, two people familiar with the conversation said. It was not clear whether this week's document was classified, but it was included with other classified papers.

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According to accounts from the White House and the Kremlin, Mr Trump did neither. The leak further cast doubt on McMaster's longevity in the top foreign policy post: The guidance for Trump had been prepared by his staff. Trump has been moving toward replacing McMaster on the advice of Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, but has not settled on timing or a successor.

Amid criticism by some lawmakers of his congratulatory call to Putin, whose 76 percent win in the Russian election Sunday was denounced as a "sham" by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., Trump tweeted Wednesday that "Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing" and said that Moscow could help the United States solve a range of worldwide problems.

"An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections", said Sen.

"We recognise that the 2018 midterm, and future elections, are clearly potential targets for Russian hacking attempts", she said. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday he wouldn't comment specifically on Trump's action, but he told CNN, "I think Putin's a criminal".

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Hours before the White House even acknowledged Trump had spoken to Putin, the Kremlin put its own spin on the call, saying that Trump had called to congratulate Putin and that "special attention was paid to making progress on the question of holding a possible meeting at the highest level". Other aides said Trump is keen to forge a different sort of relationship with Putin, and he did not want to antagonise him.

A White House source defended the allegedly jovial nature of the Putin call to Axios.

Allies, most notably in Britain, were furious about Mr Trump's lack of solidarity after a chemical weapons attack on double agent Sergei Skripal in a small English town. Russian Federation has denied the accusation.

Just minutes before Trump's tweets, the White House staff had suggested that he agreed with President Emmanuel Macron of France on the need to "hold Russian Federation accountable".

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted that President Barack Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin's last electoral victory.