Kamala Shotguns Joe Sixpack

WASHINGTON — In January, a reporter contacted the nascent Biden campaign to request an interview. She wanted to ask the former vice president about lingering criticisms that were bound to come up on the trail: how, as a senator, he failed Anita Hill; his lead role in the 1994 crime bill; his vote for the Iraq war; his mixed record on abortion rights; his handsy ways; the hot mess that is Hunter.

And that little girl was me.

I was promptly rejected for an on-the-record sit-down. Talking to some in the Biden circle, I sensed a myopia. They seemed to think they could blow past the past, walling off the candidate and ignoring the imbroglios that were obvious fodder for the pack of hungry Democrats and the rapacious president who would soon be in full cry after the front-runner.

Not deigning to talk to the press to explain bad decisions to voters seemed more like Queen Hillary than Uncle Joe. Even David Axelrod, who favored Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate, has said that it is “not a tenable strategy” to meet the press only when you are rolled out to try to explain some embarrassing gaffe.

It was also a bad sign, after Biden got in trouble for bragging at a fund-raiser about working with segregationist senators, that the candidate’s advisers trash-talked him to The Washington Post, saying they had warned him to use a less toxic example of bipartisanship.

In my experience, candidates with advisers who belittle them on background do not win elections.

The aloofness and arrogance of the Biden operation came spilling out for all to see under the bright lights of the debate stage.

The 76-year-old seemed irritated and unprepared to address inevitable jabs from his younger, more nimble rivals. What did he think would happen — that they would strew rose petals along his path to the podium and beg for selfies? In the 2008 race, he was a more vivid and genial debater than Obama. Now he seems simultaneously drained and entitled.

Kamala Harris, who had been trying to appease the progressives on Twitter who berate her for her law enforcement record, suddenly found her inner cop.

Rather than asking Biden to pass the torch, she took a blowtorch to him.

“I do not believe you are a racist,” she allowed about the man who was the partner of the first black president, had a good civil rights record and claimed (unconvincingly) that he was inspired to run by his disgust at Charlottesville.

Harris snapped the cuffs on: “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Harris was grinding her stiletto on a vulnerable part of Biden’s record. The reason Hill was eviscerated and a lying Clarence Thomas ascended to the Supreme Court is that Biden, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was bending over backward to appease uncompromising Republicans on the panel — the same men who were falsely accusing Hill of perversity, erotomania and perjury.

A Times story revealed how Biden went to Michigan before the midterms last year to reclaim the Midwest for Democrats but ended up praising Republican Fred Upton during a paid speech to a Republican-leaning audience. Apoplectic Democrats said Biden helped Upton win re-election to the House.

After Harris dressed down Biden, Michael Bennet snapped back at the front-runner. Biden was boasting that, when they were negotiating a deal in 2012 to end a government showdown, he got Mitch McConnell to allow the top individual income tax rate to rise, generating about $600 billion in revenue.

“The deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the Tea Party,” the Colorado senator said. “It extended the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Democratic Party had been running against that for 10 years.”

Biden is selling himself as someone who can work with a Republican Party that everyone but Biden realizes doesn’t exist anymore.

Adding injury to insult, his handlers overcoached him on his signature trait of runaway verbosity. It was weird watching Biden cutting himself off midsentence — “My time is up. I’m sorry” — while all the others were talking well over their allotment. It was like the sheriff in “Blazing Saddles” holding the gun to his own head.

Biden may have been trying to limit what he said — just as he limits press exposure — to keep out of trouble. But it looked as if he lacked confidence.

After his poor debate showing, Biden tried to recover Friday in Chicago but stepped in it again, saying during a labor luncheon, “We’ve got to recognize that kid wearing a hoodie may very well be the next poet laureate and not a gangbanger.”

He argued that “the discussion in this race today shouldn’t be about the past.” But the problem at the moment is that Biden has too much past and not enough presence.

No People. No Process. No Policy.

The Trump administration is not prepared for a foreign policy crisis.

But the administration has not faced an actual national security crisis that tests it and us in a profound way. There is no shortage of possible candidates — a major terrorist attack; a debilitating cyberattack; an infectious disease outbreak; an incident with North Korea, Iran, China or Russia that escalates into a broader conflict. Yet no administration in modern memory has been less prepared to deal with a true crisis than this one.

I spent nearly 25 years in government, and almost as much time studying it. When it comes to the effective stewardship of our nation’s security — especially during crises — the most successful administrations had three things in common:

  1. people,
  2. process and
  3. policy.

People with the experience, temperament and intellectual honesty to give a president good ideas and to dissuade him from pursuing bad ones. An effective process that brings key stakeholders together to question one another’s assumptions, stress test options and consider second-order effects. And all of this in the service of developing clear policies that provide marching orders to everyone in an administration, while putting allies at ease and adversaries on notice about our intentions.

The George H.W. Bush administration’s handling of the end of the Cold War powerfully illustrates these principles. Mr. Bush, Secretary of State James Baker, the national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and a remarkable team of senior officials proved to be the right people in the right place at the right time. Mr. Scowcroft’s interagency process became a model for every successive administration until this one. The policies they pursued were clear, sustained and comprehensive. The Obama administration’s successes in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and handling the Ebola epidemic were the results of similar strengths.

When it comes to people, process and policy, Mr. Trump’s administration has gone from bad to disastrous.

For two years, cooler heads like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the national security adviser H.R. McMaster served as something of a check on Mr. Trump’s worst instincts: invade Venezuela, withdraw from NATO, evacuate every American from the Korean Peninsula.Now, their successors — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton as national security adviser — are as likely to encourage Mr. Trump’s follies as to oppose them.

Equally important, the Partnership for Public Service has found that almost 40 percent of leadership positions requiring Senate confirmation remain unfilled across the administration — at last count 275 out of 705 jobs. About a third of the State Department’s 198 key posts are vacant. One-quarter of the administration’s departments are led by “acting” secretaries.

Under Mr. Bolton, the National Security Council headed by the president, the Principals’ Committee headed by Mr. Bolton and the Deputies Committee, which I once led and which coordinates policy deliberations, have gone into deep hibernation.

Some combination of these committees typically met multiple times a day. Now, it is reportedly once or twice a week at most. The result is greater control of the policy process for Mr. Bolton and fewer messy meetings in which someone might challenge his wisdom. Mr. Mattis, who once complained about death by meetings, protested to Mr. Bolton about the lack of them.

.. The absence of process has consequences. There were minimal efforts to prepare Mr. Trump for his summit with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, in which he unilaterally ended military exercises on the Korean Peninsula and mused about withdrawing all American forces. Nor was there a process to game out Mr. Trump’s recent decision to pull out of Syria — instead, the relevant committees scrambled after the fact to bring some order to Mr. Trump’s impulses. Even the welcome progress toward ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan has been hobbled by Mr. Trump’s arbitrary and then partly rescinded announcement that he was cutting forces in Afghanistan by half, thereby undercutting our leverage in negotiations with the Taliban.

As for policy, it’s the lifeblood of any administration. Secretaries, other senior officials, ambassadors and envoys all need to know what the policy is to explain it to others and bring predictability to our nation’s foreign engagements. Mr. Trump’s failure to develop policies — and his tendency to countermand them by tweet — have caused major confusion worldwide about where we stand on issue after issue. In a crisis, having clear policy principles is even more important. Take the meltdown in Venezuela. The administration deserves credit for leading the international isolation of the country’s illegitimate president, Nicolás Maduro. But there is no evidence it has a comprehensive strategy to advance a peaceful transition — or a Plan B if Mr. Maduro digs in or lashes out.

Axios reported that Mr. Trump likes to express his disdain for policy by citing the boxer Mike Tyson: Everybody has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth. It’s true that no policy fully survives first contact. But if you don’t spend time anticipating the shots you are likely to take, you wind up flailing about wildly. Which sounds a lot like Mr. Trump.

These past two years, most of our foreign policy setbacks have been modest, and mostly of Mr. Trump’s own making. These next two, we may not be so lucky.

Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and How Presidents View Impeachment

memo that his lawyers had prepared last year, for the special counsel, published by the Times over the weekend, which says that, because the President can legitimately stop investigations—by methods including his pardon power or by the firing or hiring of certain law-enforcement officials, which can be part of the President’s job—his actions “could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself.” As the President’s lawyers see it, Trump, in effect, is justice.

.. what the President and his lawyers seem to be saying is that there will, or can, be no “high crimes or misdemeanors”—the standard for impeachment—for Mueller to report to Congress, because Trump can make them vanish.

.. What is especially jarring about this argument is that it posits that the President does not have to pardon himself for any potential crime to disappear; the idea that he could, maybe, someday pardon himself makes a crime un-criminal. The concept is meta-Machiavellian: it is not just that a theoretical end—a Presidential pardon or a firing of the special counsel—justifies the means; it erases the means. That which may never happen (a pardon) is treated as something that already has.

.. the part about pardons in the Constitution reads like this: the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” (Emphasis added.)

The President may not be willing to read the parts of sentences that he doesn’t like, but one wishes that his lawyers would. The pardon power is not absolute

.. Whether a President can pardon himself or herself for anythingis not clear, in part because no President has ever tried

.. And should an investigator just assume that anything that harms the President won’t be prosecuted, and thus needn’t be investigated?

.. Does once having been Trump’s campaign chairman mean, for example, that Paul Manafort can, as Mueller’s team alleged on Monday, engage in witness tampering?

.. That is the logic of societies that have given up on the rule of law—leaving investigators and judges and juries always guessing about whether they are obliged to ignore plain facts in order to maintain the illusion of Presidential innocence.

.. there is no question that a President can, in the course of doing things that he is allowed to do—such as hiring and firing people—commit crimes, for example by taking bribes.

.. In Trump’s view, in other words, Sessions’s very conflict—his involvement in the campaign, which is presumably what Trump was referring to when he said that he “knew better than most”—was a reason for him to stay involved.

.. The reason that there is a Russia investigation, in other words, is a failure of the President’s subordinates to use the power that his office gave them. This, for Trump, seems to be the definition of a “hoax”: people pretending that Trump is not as powerful as Trump is.

..  When NBC’s Craig Melvin asked President Bill Clinton, this week for the “Today” show, whether it would have been better for him to resign, rather than fight it out, when he was impeached on charges that he had perjured himself and obstructed justice in relation to the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones cases, in 1998, Clinton said no and argued, “I defended the Constitution!”

.. He referred vaguely to “imagined facts” and to unspecified real ones that had been “conveniently omitted.”

..  It might seem surprising that Clinton was not better prepared for such questions ahead of his book tour. But then his wife’s Presidential campaign did not seem well prepared for such questions, either

.. “The American people, two-thirds of them, stayed with me,” he said—as if polls provided the ultimate pardon.

 

More Chaos as Trump Suggests the North Korea Summit May Be Back On

On Friday, after a North Korean official said that Kim was ready to meet Trump “at any time,” Donald Trump, Jr., linked to an Axios story about this statement and crowed, “The Art of The Deal baby!!!”—as if Trump’s decision to cancel the summit had elicited important new concessions from the North Koreans. But that wasn’t the case.

.. Of course, Kim is willing to meet anytime. It was he who requested the summit in the first place.

To sit down one on one with an American President has for decades been a goal of North Korea’s leaders.

.. At the very least, some detailed preparatory work would make it easier to manage expectations in both Washington and Pyongyang.

.. The evidence suggests Trump acted as he did because he didn’t like the tone of North Korea’s statements, particularly those directed at John Bolton, the national-security adviser, and Mike Pence, the Vice-President, after they both suggested that Libya’s disarmament under Muammar Qaddafi would be a good model for the North Koreans to follow.

.. This language suggests the North Koreans have learned the lesson that Pence and many other people around Trump learned a long time ago: the most reliable way to get him to do something you want is to praise him expansively and publicly.

.. the idea that Trump is some sort of master negotiator, or ace business tactician, is a fallacy propagated by himself. Trump’s actual record in doing business deals is one of overpaying, struggling to make them work, and shuffling some of his companies in and out of bankruptcy.

.. The only art he has perfected is promoting himself as a great dealmaker on the basis of such a checkered past.

.. Trump has displayed virtually no regard for the consequences of his actions on American allies, including South Korea and Japan.

.. without giving any advance notice to South Korea, which had worked for months to set up the summit, was shocking even by his standards.

.. To many people who live in Korea or in nearby countries, it seemed like an American President was behaving erratically on a matter of existential importance.

.. Trump looks impetuous and unreliable.”

.. the Trump Administration is demanding that Kim’s regime agree to scrap its entire nuclear arsenal—which it spent thirty years developing—rapidly and unilaterally.

The North Koreans, in talking about “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” appear to be envisaging a much more gradual process that would involve reciprocal measures on the U.S. side.

.. China, which is also a key player, has proposed an initial “freeze for freeze” deal, in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program and the United States suspends its military exercises with South Korea.

 

Trump’s Chaos Theory for the Oval Office Is Taking Its Toll

For 13 months in the Oval Office, and in an unorthodox business career before that, Donald J. Trump has thrived on chaos, using it as an organizing principle and even a management tool.

Now the costs of that chaos are becoming starkly clear in the demoralized staff and policy disarray of a wayward White House.

.. Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, warned the chief of staff, John F. Kelly, that he might resign if the president went ahead with the plan,

.. Yet at the end of a photo session, when a reporter asked Mr. Trump about the measures, he confirmed that the United States would announce next week that it is imposing long-term tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. The White House has not even completed a legal review of the measures.

.. Mr. Cohn, who almost left last year after Mr. Trump’s response to a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., indicated he was waiting to see whether Mr. Trump goes through with the tariffs

.. second day in a row that Mr. Trump blindsided Republicans and his own aides.

.. he embraced the stricter gun control measures backed by Democrats

.. Mr. Trump relied on a small circle of colleagues and a management style that amounted to “trial and error — the strongest survived, the weak died.”

.. erratic boss and little in the way of a coherent legislative agenda

.. they are consumed by infighting, fears of their legal exposure and an ambient sense that the White House is spinning out of control.

.. he carries on a bitter feud with his attorney general and watches members of his family clash with a chief of staff he recruited to restore a semblance of order — all against the darkening shadow of an investigation of his ties to Russia.
..Mr. Trump’s instinct during these moments is to return to the populist themes that carried him to the White House, which is why his trade announcement is hardly surprising.
.. Mr. Trump has few fixed views on any issue, but he has been consistent on his antipathy for free trade since the 1980s
.. Without Mr. Porter playing a stopgap role on trade, the debate has been marked by a lack of focus on policy and planning
.. Mr. Trump lashes out regularly at Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a vitriol that stuns members of his staff.
.. Mr. Trump regards Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation as the “original sin,” which the president thinks has left him exposed.
.. Anthony Scaramucci, an ally of some in the Trump family, whom Mr. Kelly fired as communications director after only 11 days, intensified his criticism of the chief of staff in a series of news interviews on Wednesday and Thursday.

.. Mr. Trump is also frustrated with Mr. Kushner, whom he now views as a liability because of his legal entanglements, the investigations of the Kushner family’s real estate company and the publicity over having his security clearance downgraded

.. some aides have expressed frustration that Mr. Kushner and his wife, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, have remained at the White House, despite Mr. Trump at times saying they never should have come to the White House and should leave.

.. aides also noted that Mr. Trump has told the couple that they should keep serving in their roles, even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out.

.. Some argue Mr. Kelly should have carried out a larger staff shake-up when he came in. That has allowed several people to stagnate, particularly in policy roles, one adviser said.

The Wolff lines on Trump that ring unambiguously true

There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book’s scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.

.. Wolff’s liberties with off-the-record comments — while ethically unacceptable to nearly all reporters — have the effect of exposing Washington’s insider jokes and secret languages, which normal Americans find perplexing and detestable.

.. In the past year, we have had many of the same conversations with the same sources Wolff used. We won’t betray them, or put on the record what was off. But, we can say that the following lines from the book ring unambiguously true:

.. he seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention.

.. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. … [H]e could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post‘s Page Six.

.. He was postliterate — total television.

Instinct over expertise:

expertise, that liberal virtue, was overrated

Ill-preparedness

[T]he president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among [his White House’s] most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two.

.. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do.

.. policy making … flowed up. It was a process of suggesting, in throw-it-against-the-wall style, what the president might want, and hoping he might then think that he had thought of this himself.

Low regard by key aides

If a wackadoo moment occurred on the occasions … when his remarks careened in no clear direction, his staff had to go into intense method-acting response. It took absolute discipline not to acknowledge what everyone could see.

.. he could have moments of, almost everyone would admit, irrationality. When that happened, he was alone in his anger and not approachable by anyone.

.. His senior staff largely dealt with these dark hours by agreeing with him, no matter what he said.

Be smart: 

More than half a dozen of the more skilled White House staff are contemplating imminent departures. Many leaving are quite fearful about the next chapter of the Trump presidency.

 

 

 

 

Inside Trump’s Hour by Hour Battle for Self-Preservation

With Twitter as his Excalibur, the president
takes on his doubters, powered by long spells
of cable news and a dozen Diet Cokes. But
if Mr. Trump has yet to bend the presidency
to his will, he is at least wrestling it to a draw.

Mr. Trump’s uninhibited approach seems erratic to many veterans of both parties in the capital and beyond. Some politicians and pundits lament the instability and, even without medical degrees, feel no compunction about publicly diagnosing various mental maladies.

.. Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back.

.. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, has told associates that Mr. Trump, deeply set in his ways at age 71, will never change. Rather, he predicted, Mr. Trump would bend, and possibly break, the office to his will.

That has proved half true. Mr. Trump, so far, has arguably wrestled the presidency to a draw.

.. Mr. Kelly is trying, quietly and respectfully, to reduce the amount of free time the president has for fiery tweets by accelerating the start of his workday. Mr. Priebus also tried, with only modest success, to encourage Mr. Trump to arrive by 9 or 9:30 a.m.

.. Mr. Trump, who enjoyed complete control over his business empire, has made significant concessions after trying to micromanage his first months in office. Despite chafing at the limits, the president actually craves the approval of Mr. Kelly, whom he sees as a peer, people close to Mr. Trump said.

.. He calls Mr. Kelly up to a dozen times a day, even four or five times during dinner or a golf outing, to ask about his schedule or seek policy advice, according to people who have spoken with the president. The new system gives him “time to think,” he said when it began.

.. For most of the year, people inside and outside Washington have been convinced that there is a strategy behind Mr. Trump’s actions. But there is seldom a plan apart from pre-emption, self-defense, obsession and impulse.

.. Occasionally, the president solicits affirmation before hitting the “tweet” button. In June, according to a longtime adviser, he excitedly called friends to say he had the perfect tweet to neutralize the Russia investigation. He would call it a “witch hunt.” They were unimpressed.

He has bowed to advice from his lawyers by not attacking Mr. Mueller, but at times his instincts prevail.

.. When three former campaign advisers were indicted or pleaded guilty this fall, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the investigation, urged the president not to respond. If he did, it would only elevate the story.

Mr. Trump, however, could not help himself. He tweeted that the financial charges lodged against his former campaign manager, Paul J. Manafort, had nothing to do with the campaign and that investigators should be examining “Crooked Hillary & the Dems” instead. By the next morning, he was belittling George Papadopoulos, the campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his outreach to Russians, dismissing him as a “low level volunteer” who has “proven to be a liar.”

.. By Sunday morning, with news shows consumed by Mr. Flynn’s case, the president grew angry and fired off a series of tweets excoriating Mrs. Clinton and the F.B.I., tweets that several advisers told him were problematic and needed to stop

.. Once he posts controversial messages, Mr. Trump’s advisers sometimes decide not to raise them with him. One adviser said that aides to the president needed to stay positive and look for silver linings wherever they could find them, and that the West Wing team at times resolved not to let the tweets dominate their day.

.. The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his “Super TiVo,” a state-of-the-art system that records cable news.

.. “I do not watch much television,” he insisted. “I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”

Later, he groused about being forced to watch CNN in the Philippines because nothing else was available.

.. To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.

.. If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

..  In private moments with the families of appointees in the Oval Office, the president engages with children in a softer tone than he takes in public, and he specifically asked that the children of the White House press corps be invited in as they visited on Halloween. Yet he does little to promote that side, some longtime friends say, because it cracks the veneer of strength that he relishes.

.. Only occasionally does Mr. Trump let slip his mask of unreflective invincibility. During a meeting with Republican senators, he discussed in emotional terms the opioid crisis and the dangers of addiction, recounting his brother’s struggle with alcohol.

According to a senator and an aide, the president then looked around the room and asked puckishly, “Aren’t you glad I don’t drink?

.. Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government

.. His vision of executive leadership was shaped close to home, by experiences with Democratic clubhouse politicians as a young developer in New York. One figure stands out to Mr. Trump: an unnamed party boss — his friends assume he is referring to the legendary Brooklyn fixer Meade Esposito — whom he remembered keeping a baseball bat under his desk to enforce his power.

.. advisers said they saw a novice who was gradually learning that the presidency does not work that way. And he is coming to realize, they said, the need to woo, not whack, leaders of his own party to get things done.

During his early months in office, he barked commands at senators, which did not go over well. “I don’t work for you, Mr. President,” Mr. Corker once snapped back, according to a Republican with knowledge of the exchange.

.. he had become more attentive during daily intelligence briefings thanks to pithy presentations by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, and a deeper concern about the North Korea situation than his blithe, confrontational tweets suggest.

.. “The bigger problem, the thing people need to understand, is that he was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”

.. In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.

.. Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything he does not learn from outside his bubble.

.. “He really loves verbal briefings. He is not one to consume volumes of books or briefings.”

Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.

Mr. Kelly has pushed out advisers like Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who he believed advanced information to rile up Mr. Trump or create internal conflict.

.. Ms. Pirro whipped up the president against Mr. Mueller and accused James B. Comey, the former F.B.I.director, of employing tactics typically reserved for Mafia cases, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

The president became visibly agitated as she spoke. “Roy Cohn was my lawyer!” he exclaimed, referring to the legendary McCarthy-era fixer who mentored Mr. Trump in the 1980s, suggesting that was the type of defender he needed now.

.. Mr. Bannon has told allies that Mr. Trump only “reads to reinforce.”

.. Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”

“He wears you down,” Mr. Schwartz said.

.. “Who is going to run against me in 2020?” he asked, according to a person in attendance. “Crooked Hillary? Pocahontas?”

.. He is less likely to tweet at this hour, when the news he would react to is mostly recycled from hours earlier. But he watches Ms. Pirro and her fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and sometimes “hate-watches” CNN to get worked up, especially Don Lemon.