It’s Mayhem, Fear, and Disarray in Trump’s White House – Vanity Fair
It has been a testing week for Team Trump. As the Washington Post reported on Monday, only one day after he abruptly sacked F.B.I. director James Comey, the president of the United States shared highly classified information at the White House with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “I get great intel,” Donald Trump reportedly bragged, before forging ahead and imparting said intel, which was obtained through an intelligence sharing partner, who had not given the United States permission to share this information.
Once again, Trump’s ragtag team of underlings was required to clean up the mess, which was exacerbated by the fact that their boss ascended to the presidency, in part, by turning Hillary Clinton’s temple-scratching e-mail scandal into a Category 5 political event. (“FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem” he tweeted on July 15.) Bewildered by the bizarre events of the week, and fielding the colossal fallout, occupants of the White House are apparently locked into a fraught state of panic, which was likely exacerbated by recent reports regarding the prospect of an imminent staff reshuffle, which suggest that some combination of Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer could face the firing line. Thus far, their strategy has coalesced around the method of blunt denial. Shortly after the story broke, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell started their spin, issuing a triple statement. “This story is false,” read out Powell, flatly.
It didn’t quite end there, though. McMaster then went on to brief reporters, again, declaring The Post’s report to be “false,” and denying Trump had exposed methods and sources. “At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” He took no questions, perhaps to avoid the point that the report had not suggested Trump had discussed either methods or sources, but alleged he put a source at risk by sharing information.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to the press room at 7:35 P.M., informing reporters there would be no more statements coming from the White House that evening. “Tonight we are not doing any other question and answering at this moment,” she told the assembled gaggle.
If their stance ostensibly appeared united, those present sensed an acute friction, with the Daily Beast reporting that Bannon, Spicer, Sanders, and communications director Mike Dubke entered a conference room and, shortly afterwards, drowned out the sounds of their yelling by amping up the volume on the TV. Speaking to the Beast, one aide described the strain sweeping the White House Monday by likening it to “a morgue.” Senior staffers, secreting themselves away, were said to be “hiding in offices.”
As expected, external attacks on the latest development are rife. In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country.” David Kochel, Jeb Bush’s strategist in the 2016 campaign tweeted: “John McCain probably revealed less to the KGB in 5+ years torture at the Hanoi Hilton than Trump did in 5 minutes in the Oval.” Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, an ardent defender of Trump’s administration, has demanded comment. His spokesman said: “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.” The Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker weighed in, and said the story was “very, very troubling” if true. “Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips” with it, he told Bloomberg.
But, significantly, resentment is now reportedly stirring within the inner circle of Trump’s own team, who are largely inoculated to the capricious president’s whimsical style of governance. The constant stream of scandal and slip-ups is distracting, diverting public and political attention away from their overarching task of effectively governing. “It never stops” one exasperated White House official told Politico. “Basically chaos at all times.” Another advisor, also speaking to Politico, confirmed that the Oval office meeting was probably just as freewheeling as reported, imagining that the information would have been heedlessly broadcast by the unpracticed president. “He doesn’t think in those terms.” This person continued: “He doesn’t realize the implications of what he’s saying. I don’t think it was his intentions in any way to share any classified information. He wouldn’t want to do that.”
As the White House continues to be hit by a volley of scandals, fired sporadically from within its walls, its occupants are operating in a structure that steadily erodes stability and plays upon sensationalism. The threat of a reshuffle is a smart way to keep growing dissent in check, but, with Republican officials apparently barring themselves within their own offices, it’s unclear how much longer Trump can continue to maintain support in the ranks of his own party, and perhaps even his own administration.