News reports of upheaval in the White House are almost certainly originating from the President Donald Trump himself, chief of staff John Kelly told reporters during an off-the-record briefing, Axios disclosed Friday.
“Trump is talking to people outside the White House and that reporters are then talking to those people,” reporter Jonathan Swan, who was not invited to the briefing, wrote. “Kelly cast Trump’s own conversations as a significant contributing factor to stories about the staff changes.”
Trump commented on the turmoil on Thursday, hinting that there would be more to come.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year,” Trump told reporters yesterday after he had fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via a tweet. “And I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”
“There will always be change. I think you want to see change,” Trump said. “I want to also see different ideas.”
Just why the president would be engaging in such behavior is the question of the moment here in Washington.
There’s much to suggest that there is no strategy at work. To the extent Trump cares about policy, it seems to be only about trade deficits (not that he understands them) and saber rattling with North Korea and Iran. His only real concern with Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be about thwarting Department of Justice special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
One possible principle at work is the idea of not making Trump look bad by either publicly disagreeing with him or by getting caught in embarrassing mini-scandals for wasting taxpayer money. The latter is what ended the leadership position of Health and Human Services chief Tom Price who spent upwards of $1 million on private jet flights and was forced to resign last September.
Disagreeing with Trump too much cost Tillerson his position, the president said during informal remarks on Tuesday before leaving on a trip to California.
“I actually got along well with Rex. But really it was a different mindset. It was a different thinking,” he said.
He specifically mentioned U.S. policy toward Iran as a point of contention.
“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently.”
As of Friday evening, no one else seems to have been terminated. At this point, however, no one would be surprised to see any high-level official let go. The Washington Post reported Thursday that White House officials have established betting pools on who will be fired next.
One likely nominee is national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who has repeatedly rankled the president on Iran and some other issues. Several news outlets have reported that Trump has already decided to fire McMaster but is waiting for a less humiliating way to show him the exit.
Despite Trump’s expressed desire for more firings, congressional Republicans are beginning to openly counsel him to avoid too many dismissals.
"With everything else we have to do around here, having the prospect of two additional confirmation fights perhaps is going to be a challenge," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, told CNN after Tillerson was let go.