Remember almost 100 days ago the anonymous D.C. sources who described Rex Tillerson as a walking dead Secretary of State who’d lost President Trump’s favor and would be booted out the door any minute? Certainly by year’s end.
Oh, look! Tillerson’s still in office. So is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the target of Trump ire from time to time.
Every White House has internal backbiting fueled by jealousies, ambitions, personal agendas, even just hurt feelings. Washington media are more than happy to receive and report such self-serving bureaucratic leaks because a) they look to be plugged inside and b) there’s really no accountability for being wrong since their unidentified sources can’t complain or be challenged.
Some presidents are firm yet accessible internally and make it clear they don’t appreciate washing laundry in public. George W. Bush was one. Some presidents prefer internal competitions, public or not, reasoning competitive fears make people work harder.
Intentionally or not, the Trump White House is one of those. So, today we have yet another leaked report about staff turmoil there, this time at the very top.
According to Reuters’ John Walcott, four unnamed sources tell him the president has about had it with Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
The story says either or both could be fired any minute. That would be yuuge news, fueling the unstable president narrative and derailing talk of any Trump initiative. And not for the first time in Trump’s first 400 days.
Both men have been on Trump’s team since Day One, McMaster in his current job and Kelly first running Homeland Security, then coming over as chief of staff last July to assert some control on office chaos and, reportedly, ruffling numerous feathers.
Both men are seen as moderating influences on some Trump impulses, for example, his now muted criticism of international alliances like NATO.
Kelly is a 67-year-old retired four-star Marine General who lost a Marine son in Iraq. The 55-year-old McMaster is a three-star Army general who could return to active duty if he left the White House.
Both men are combat veterans with the kind of strategic military gravitas that Trump, until now, has valued. The men are friends and allies in that high-powered environment.
According to Reuters, Trump was perturbed by McMaster’s recent public assertion that Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election was certain. Trump prefers vagueness.
Kelly says his job is the most important of his career and is to ensure the controlled proper flow of all relevant information for presidential decision-making. Previous leaks said the president was disturbed by Kelly’s media explanation for apparent Trump flip-flops that his boss’ position has “evolved” since the campaign.
Now, Walcott writes, the issue of presidential annoyance focuses on Kelly’s strict reforms on national security clearances, stemming from the revelation that recently resigned Trump aide Rob Porter didn’t have one.
No clearance, no access to classified information, including the president’s daily intelligence briefing. Application of this Kelly policy without a Trump intervention would, for instance, exclude Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
A White House spokesman obliquely answered a Kelly-McMaster question Thursday by saying “the president has full confidence in each member of the team.”
In Washington-speak “full confidence” often means they’ll be gone by dinner.