An allegation of decades-old sexual misconduct is threatening Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains how the allegation came to light at the 11th hour. Photo: AP
The stark and anonymous warning was a breathtaking event without precedent in modern presidential history.
“For somebody within the belly of the White House to be saying there are a group of us running a resistance, making sure the president of the United States doesn’t do irrational and dangerous things, it is a mind-boggling moment,” historian Douglas Brinkley said.
.. In the Times column, the official writes about the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in heroic terms, describing him as “a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.”
This invocation angered Trump, who in his private talks with advisers and friends expressed particular dismay because he has long viewed McCain as a personal enemy
.. The president was already feeling especially vulnerable — and a deep “sense of paranoia,” in the words of one confidant — after his devastating portrayal in Woodward’s book. He was upset that so many in his orbit seemed to have spoken with the veteran Washington Post investigative journalist, and he had begun peppering staffers with questions about who Woodward’s sources were.
.. Trump already felt that he had a dwindling circle of people whom he could trust, a senior administration official said. According to one Trump friend, he fretted after Wednesday’s op-ed that he could trust only his children.
.. channeled her boss’s rage and echoed some of his favorite attacks on the media.
Her statement began by invoking Trump’s 2016 election victory and noting, “None of them voted for a gutless, anonymous source to the failing New York Times.” Sanders went on to demand that the paper apologize for what she called the “pathetic, reckless, and selfish op-ed,” and urged the anonymous author to leave the White House.
“The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States,” she said in her statement. “He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign.”
.. The outing of the op-ed’s author is virtually inevitable, according to forensic linguists, who work in both academia and private industry, figuring out the authors of anonymous texts in lawsuits, plagiarism cases and historical puzzles.
.. “a problem with public people is that a lot of their published work is edited, so it’s like mixing fingerprints or DNA. You don’t always know who the real author is.
.. Brinkley, the historian, said the most analogous example of disloyalty and advisers disregarding the president’s wishes was in Richard Nixon’s final year as president. He explained that Nixon would “bark crazy orders” to aides that they intentionally disregarded.
“You’d have to go back to Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes,’ to see this syndrome where the president’s reality happens to be so different from his own senior advisers,” Brinkley said.
- Trump has a tendency to do whatever his advisers most strongly advise him against, and they even have a term for such behavior: his “defiance disorder.”
- He, out of nowhere, tweeted his decision to ban transgender people from the military before a scheduled meeting with then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss his options on the matter. “Oh my God, he just tweeted this,” Priebus reportedly said.
- His aides were similarly blindsided by his accusation, also via Twitter, that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump during the presidential campaign.
- Trump was strongly advised not to dispatch then-press secretary Sean Spicer to dispute stories about Trump’s inaugural crowd size and later admitted, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
.. He wrote a column last month arguing that journalistic mistakes had allowed Trump to “shred the media’s credibility.” He has defended Trump’s Twitter attacks — even ones viewed as being sexist or advocating violence — as responses to the “battering” the president has taken.
.. The fact that the guy who made this argument early in Trump’s presidency is now relaying anecdotes — apparently via anonymous sources — about chaos behind the scenes in the White House should not be lost on anyone.
But in other cases, Trump’s anger is aimed at members of his own staff and probably his own family, who use the media to undermine competitors in the administration. Senior adviser Steve Bannon uses his old website, Breitbart.com, to throw brickbats at his enemies. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a sort of prince regent in the Trump administration, is widely believed to use MSNBC’s Morning Joe for similar purposes.
The whole spectacle is actually pretty hilarious. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” Trump thundered in a speech in February. “Let their name be put out there.” A few weeks later, Trump met in the Oval Office with news anchors who attributed his comments to a “senior administration official.” Indeed, the president frequently calls reporters — Americans he describes as “enemies of the people” — on “background,” doling out dollops of “anonymous” information.
.. What’s new in this White House is not the phenomenon of leaking but the scope and nature of it. After every meeting, participants race to their phones to put their anonymous spin on what happened. The reports read like parody. The Washington Post’s in-depth story on the Comey firing was based on “the private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans.”
.. few people in the Trump White House have much experience working in a White House, contributing to the shocking lack of internal discipline and clear lines of authority.
.. Some reporters tell me it’s simply “[posterior]-covering.” Maintaining good relationships with the press is an insurance policy. It’s always useful to have friends in the media, particularly if an administration goes off the rails. Being able to tell reporters, “Well, you know it wasn’t me” when stuff hits the fan could save your career. Another explanation is that this kind of palace-intrigue reporting has become a staple of the new media climate.
.. But I think the problem ultimately goes back to the president himself. He thrives on drama, particularly drama he creates. He cares about, and monitors, media coverage like no president in American history. Trump likes to pit subordinates against each other, which encourages staffers to be free agents.
.. his failure to provide a consistent philosophical or policy agenda beyond “Make the boss look good.” In short, he values loyalty above all else but offers few incentives for it.