Why the Anonymous Trump Official’s Op-Ed in the New York Times Matters

In 1947, “Mr. X” wrote an extremely influential article, for Foreign Affairs, advocating a policy of containment toward the Soviet Union’s expansionist tendencies. Its author turned out to be the diplomat George Kennan, who was then the second-ranking official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. And, in 1996, Random House published “Primary Colors,” a thinly disguised roman à clef about Bill Clinton, by “Anonymous.” Less consequential than Kennan’s contribution, the novel nonetheless created a great deal of speculation about who its author was; it turned out to be the political journalist Joe Klein.

.. By nightfall on Wednesday, there were reports that White House officials were engaged in a frantic search for the culprit.

..  “scrutiny focused on a half-dozen names.”

.. the piece merely adds to what we already know about Trump’s character and the struggle of people around him to control his destructive tendencies.

.. it was reported that the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the national-security adviser at the time—James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and H. R. McMaster—had privately agreed to avoid being out of Washington at the same time.

.. There have been numerous reports about how Don McGahn, the outgoing White House counsel, tried to talk Trump out of firing James Comey and Jeff Sessions.

.. The real importance of the Op-Ed is that it corroborates these reports, provides a window into the mind-set of people who continue to work for Trump, and also reveals some intriguing details. “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president,”

.. Really? “Early whispers within the cabinet” of invoking the Constitution to oust the President? If this is true, it is information of enormous consequence, and leads to a series of further questions. Who was involved in these discussions, and how far did the whispers go?

.. The suggestion that at least some members of the Cabinet have talked about invoking these powers is new and shocking. But what does it mean to say that the whisperers didn’t want to precipitate a crisis? After all, the rest of the article makes clear that the crisis already exists and is deadly serious.

.. The head of state of the most powerful country in the world is someone whose own subordinates and appointees regard as unmoored, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous.

.. “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality,” the Op-Ed says. “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. . . . Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”

.. “I have no respect for someone who would say these things—of whose truth I have no doubt—in an anonymous oped, rather than in a public resignation letter copied to the House Judiciary Committee.”

.. He or she has enflamed the paranoia of the president and empowered the president’s willfulness.”

.. These are legitimate concerns, but the larger one is that we have a menacing dingbat in the White House, and nobody with the requisite authority seems willing to do anything about it, other than to try to manage the situation on an ad-hoc, day-to-day basis. Perhaps this could be seen as a “Trump containment” strategy, but it falls well short of the systematic containment strategy that Kennan advocated, and, in any case, the Trumpkins, unlike the early Cold War strategists, are not necessarily dealing with a rational actor. Something more is surely needed.

 

Still Standing, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Step Back in the Spotlight

  • They disappointed climate change activists who thought they would keep President Trump from leaving the landmark Paris accord.
  • They enraged Democrats and even some Republicans by not pushing back against his immigration policies, and
  • alienated business allies by their silence over threats to Nafta. They regularly faced news stories about their unpopularity.

Even their relationship with the president seemed to suffer.

Several times Mr. Trump joked that he “could have had Tom Brady” as a son-in-law. “Instead,” the president said, according to five people who heard him, “I got Jared Kushner.”

.. It did not help that the president had gone from telling aides to “talk to Jared,” as he did during the campaign, to telling them that “Jared hasn’t been so good for me.”

.. At various points, Mr. Trump told friends and his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, that he wished both Jared and Ivanka would return to New York.

.. It was only in May that Mr. Kushner had his security clearance restored

.. “I think they felt in some ways when things escalated that they thought it was best to keep a lower profile and hone in on their specific policy areas,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders

.. once said that she did not intend to stay in the capital long enough to become one of its “political creatures” — people she feels are “so principled that they get nothing done,”

.. home is now in Washington, where their children attend Jewish schools and their house is routinely watched by papraazzi as they depart for work or go for a run. 

.. As for separating immigrant families, she added, “How do they sleep at night?”

.. In response to critics like Ms. Rosen, the couple have argued that they can temper Mr. Trump only if he is willing to listen.

.. Mr. Kushner has convinced the president that criminal justice reform is worthwhile, even as his attorney general remains a vocal opponent.

.. Mr. Kushner has shown an adeptness at using the president’s impulses to steer him toward his own priorities. When Mr. Kushner ushered Kim Kardashian West into the Oval Office to speak about commuting the life sentence of an African-American woman named Alice Marie Johnson, Mr. Trump ignored the concerns of his advisers and freed Ms. Johnson, dazzled by his power to grant clemency and Ms. Kardashian’s celebrity.

.. Her supporters argue that she is in an untenable situation if she speaks out in public. Her father said she had addressed the issue with him privately, further inflaming her critics.

.. Mr. Kushner appears to see himself as the custodian of Mr. Trump’s political brand, offering his father-in-law “options,” and has spoken about clearing out the Republican Party of lingering resistance. He has privately said that he has been taking action against “incompetence” and that any tensions are a result of fighting for his father-in-law’s best interests.

.. His detractors say the friction stems from Mr. Kushner’s meddling in things for which he is out of his depth, like when the president, following his own preference, huddled with Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump instead of his top policy advisers before his meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

.. Ms. Richards wrote in a memoir that they had offered her a deal that felt like a “bribe” — continued federal funding for the group in return for a halt to providing abortions.

.. Inside the White House, the couple’s influence is most felt in internal battles, particularly with aides they do not regard as loyal to their mission — or Mr. Trump’s.

.. That is particularly true of Mr. Kushner, who, critics say, shares his father-in-law’s desire for control. Over the course of Mr. Trump’s campaign and presidency, Mr. Kushner has been seen as trying to undercut or as being at odds with a long list of aides — some who remain, many who have left.

The list includes:

  • Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski;
  • his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his associates;
  • his former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon;
  • Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel;
  • the White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway;
  • the first head of the presidential transition, Chris Christie;
  • the former secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson;
  • Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and
  • his longtime lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz.

Their privileged permanence as family members has allowed them to outlast other aides in an environment where expectations have been shifted and, at times, lowered on their behalf.

.. Both husband and wife, like Mr. Trump, are said to hang on to grudges, but Mr. Kushner is far more transactional than his wife. Like his father-in-law, he appears to convince himself that fights did not happen if someone has become useful to him.

.. A persistent obstacle to both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump is Mr. Kelly, whose approach to security clearances they feel unfairly targeted them, and who, they have confided to associates, they believe has spread negative information about them.

.. Though they have insisted that they are not trying to play a role in a succession plan for Mr. Kelly, few West Wing staff members believe that.

.. Both Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner are widely believed to support Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, as Mr. Kelly’s successor.

..

Whoever the replacement is would join a new set of aides who — many with the couple’s support — have replaced the familiar faces from the 2016 campaign.

When

  • Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive, was preparing to join the White House, Mr. Kushner, with Ms. Trump’s support, gave him their stamp of approval. It was Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump who wanted
  • Mercedes Schlapp, a well-connected Republican consultant, brought into the administration. Mr. Kushner’s ally
  • Brad Parscale became the 2020 campaign manager, a move Mr. Kushner told the West Wing staff about on the morning it was publicly announced.

And they regard Stephen Miller, a supporter of some of Mr. Trump’s harshest stands on immigration, as a walking policy encyclopedia.

.. In June, when the United States won its joint bid with Canada and Mexico to host the World Cup in 2026, Mr. Kushner’s team made sure to tell reporters that it happened in part because of the efforts of the president’s son-in-law, who reportedly used some of his international contacts to win enough votes to seal the bid.

.. Ms. Collins found in Ms. Trump what many Republicans most desire: a direct line to a president sometimes at odds with his own party.

.. Ms. Trump has delivered one of the few things she can uniquely accomplish in Washington: Riding in a car together one day, she handed Ms. Collins a phone. The president was on the line.

Trump Team Pushed False Story Line About Meeting With Kremlin-Tied Lawyer, Memo Shows

For nearly a year, the denials from President Trump’s lawyers and spokeswoman were unequivocal. No, the president did not dictate a misleading statement released in his son’s name.

“He certainly didn’t dictate,” said the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“The president was not involved in the drafting of that statement,” his lawyer Jay Sekulow told NBC News.

.. But in a confidential, hand-delivered memo to the special counsel, Mr. Trump’s lawyers acknowledged that, yes, Mr. Trump had dictated the statement.

.. Prosecutors are asking whether the statement was part of an effort by the president to obstruct a federal investigation.

..  it highlights a communication strategy that the White House has used repeatedly: deny facts, attack news outlets and dismiss journalism as “fake news.”

Late last year, for example, reporters revealed a White House plan to fire the secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, and replace him with the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo. Not so, Mr. Trump angrily replied, dismissing the stories as fake news. Ultimately, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Tillerson, replaced him with Mr. Pompeo and said he had been talking about doing so “for a long time.”

.. Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, acknowledged as much in an ABC News interview this weekend, even as he blamed the string of false statements on faulty memory and incorrect assumptions. “This is the reason you don’t let the president testify,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Our recollection keeps changing, or we’re not even asked a question and somebody makes an assumption.”

.. But Mr. Trump’s team was asked the question, again and again, by multiple reporters. The answer was consistent. Then on Monday, Ms. Sanders refused to answer the question or address her previous denial. “I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth,” she said

.. But when approached by journalists, the younger Mr. Trump issued a statement that omitted all of that. Instead, the statement said that the meeting had primarily been about Russian adoption policy. When The Times reported that the president himself had “signed off on” the statement, Mr. Trump’s advisers pushed back hard.

“They’re incorrect,” Mr. Sekulow said on CNN.

“The New York Times is wrong?” he was asked.

“Yeah, I know, is that shocking that sometimes they make a mistake?” Mr. Sekulow said.

.. Then The Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump had not only approved it, but had personally dictated it. Mr. Sekulow responded, “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate and not pertinent.”

.. The Times has since obtained a confidential memo to Mr. Mueller acknowledging that “the president dictated a short but accurate response to The New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.”

.. Mr. Trump has for years held the view that fudging the facts with journalists is far from a federal offense, and has acknowledged as much in civil lawsuits. He has acknowledged practicing what he calls “truthful hyperbole,” and has waved away outright falsehoods, dismissing them as smart public relations.

.. After his firing, Mr. Tillerson delivered a barely veiled criticism of his former boss’s trustworthiness, declaring that American democracy was threatened by a crisis of integrity. “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial matters, we go wobbly on America,”

.. Mr. Trump has said he is eager to sit for an interview. He told reporters in January that he expected to do so within “two to three weeks.”

That did not happen, and his lawyers are not sure it ever will.

Birther Taps Benghazi Conspiracy Theorist As Secretary Of State

Mike Pompeo went further than many members of his own party in blaming Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, and President Barack Obama’s administration for the deaths of four Americans.

His outspokenness was a key reason he gained favor with Trump.

.. some members of Trump’s team chose him because another potential contender, former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), was seen as too “soft” on the Benghazi issue.

.. The 2012 incident, they wrote, was “the story of a State Department seemingly more concerned with politics and Secretary Clinton’s legacy than with protecting its people in Benghazi.” 

“And it is the story of an administration so focused on the next election that it lost sight of its duty to tell the American people the truth about what had happened that night,” they added in their report, which came out just a few months before the presidential election in which Clinton was running.

.. Republicans like Pompeo argued that top members of the Obama administration
  • ignored warnings about the danger of the situation,
  • refused to call in military help during the attack and then
  • tried to cover up what happened.
But the independent investigations into the matter concluded that while there were systemic failures, Clinton herself was not personally responsible or deliberately reckless. 

Pompeo, however, said the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi was “worse in some ways” than Richard Nixon’s response to Watergate. He also pushed a conspiracy theory about how Clinton supposedly received her intelligence about the attack.

.. Pompeo will have a tough road to climb at the State Department after his role in the Benghazi investigation.

.. “For all of the Republican fulminating about Benghazi, Rex Tillerson refused to meet one on one with his head of diplomatic security and did not nominate ambassadors, who are the officials ultimately responsible for the safety and security of our personnel overseas,” she said. “The bar for any secretary of State is understandably extremely high and, when it comes to Pompeo, will be even higher due to the role he played in politicizing a real national tragedy.”