He’s in the middle of two of the most withering stories from “Fear,” per WaPo’s summary of it yesterday. One was when Trump allegedly phoned him to say that he wanted to take out Assad and Mattis politely heard him out, then immediately turned to his deputies and told them to ignore all of that and prepare a more measured response to Syrian WMD use instead.
The other was Mattis allegedly telling people that Trump understands issues like a “fifth- or sixth-grader” and noting that “secretaries of defense don’t always get to choose the president they work for.” The idea that he’s a child in a room full of adults who are *really* running things has grated on Trump since the start of his presidency, and understandably so. He reportedly didn’t like it when Steve Bannon landed on the cover of Time magazine as “The Great Manipulator,” the man who was supposedly pulling Trump’s strings. And he really didn’t like it when John Kelly went on Fox News to suggest that Trump didn’t fully understand immigration policy on the trail in 2016. Now here’s Mattis not only supposedly belittling him in private but dismissing his policy wishes out of hand.
Mattis is coming up on two years in office, and no matter how many times POTUS screams “fake news!” about Woodward’s book, he’ll never trust his SecDef the same way again. Which means, I think, that it’s time to congratulate soon-to-be new defense secretary Seb Gorka. Kidding — hopefully. Josh Rogin reports:
Many officials inside the White House and around the administration had already expected that Mattis would leave his post sometime over the next few months, completing a respectably long two-year stint at the helm of the Defense Department.
“The speculation about who replaces Mattis is now more real than ever,” said a senior White House official who was not authorized to speak about internal matters. “The president has always respected him. But now he has every reason to wonder what Mattis is saying behind his back. The relationship has nowhere to go but down, fast.”
The inside track on replacing him appears to belong to Gen. Jack Keane, who could at least get confirmed without too much trouble. As for Mattis’s impending departure, if you don’t trust Rogin’s sources would you trust Gabriel Sherman’s? They’re saying the same thing.
Two sources told me Trump is furious at the portions of the book that describe administration officials questioning his intelligence and emotional stability…
Woodward’s book isn’t officially on sale until next week, and aides fear how Trump will react as more embarrassing bits are reported. “It’s bad and it’s going to get worse,” a former West Wing staffer said. An outside adviser added, “Everybody on the inside knows it’s true. It’s just Fox News people who don’t want to admit how crazy he is.” Kelly and Mattis issued strong statements denying the quotes attributed to them, but two former administration officials said the book has rekindled Trump’s desire to fire both officials after the midterms. “That’s back on the table,” one said.
CNN reported earlier today that Trump is so incensed about the backbiting in Woodward’s book that he’s ordered a “real witch hunt” in the West Wing to find out who the leakers are — although apparently his top suspects are H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, both of whom are now beyond his reach. What’s frustrating to White House aides, said one source to Jeff Zeleny, is that they know what they’ve heard about Woodward’s book so far is true.
All of which makes it extremely bad that the NYT chose today of all days to drop a bomb on Trump with that anonymous op-ed by a “senior official” tearing him to shreds as unfit for office and alleging that the cabinet has even discussed the 25th Amendment option of removing him. If Trump was paranoid before about being undermined from within — with reason, if you believe Woodward — it’ll be that much worse now that his staff is clubbing him at length, in their own words, in the news industry’s premier op-ed page. No good can come of it. It diminishes the president’s authority in front of the world; it’s destined to make Trump suspicious even of staffers who are innocent; it’s going to lead him to try to staff up as vacancies open with unqualified cronies who’ll at least keep their mouths shut; and, depending on what his mental state is, it might bait him into doing something radical, like firing Mueller. If all he gets for “playing nice” and following the advice of people like Don McGahn is getting knifed in the back in the NYT, with his deputies crowing to reporters that they’re trying to sabotage him, he’s going to decide not to rely on them for everything and do whatever he wants with direct orders. His team’s telling him not to fire Sessions? F*** ’em. Now he’s going to fire Sessions. It is, as David Frum says, a “cowardly coup” that’s destined to have disastrous consequences.
The Mattis tell-all will be amazing, though.