President Donald Trump is "consumed" by leaks coming from the White House as aides worry his "incendiary behavior" could sink his re-election hopes, according to The New York Times.
Trump has obsessed over media reports that he was rushed to the White House bunker with his family during a protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in police custody. He has gone as far as "demanding that officials find and prosecute those responsible" for leaking the incident to the press, according to the report.
The Times and other media outlets reported that Trump was briefly taken to the bunker beneath the White House with first lady Melania Trump and their son Barron as protesters clashed with security outside. Days later, the president attempted to spin the episode in a radio interview with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade.
"It was a false report. I wasn't down. I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection," Trump claimed earlier this month. "They said it would be a good time to go down. 'Take a look, because maybe sometime you're going to need it' . . . I was down for a very very short period of time — very, very short period of time. I can't tell you who went with me, but a whole group of people went with me as an inspecting factor. I was back-up, and Brian it was during the day. It wasn't during the night. I think they reported during the night."
But arrest records from the night of the protest obtained by The Washington Post and law enforcement officials contradicted the president's claim. And Attorney General William Barr later refuted Trump's claim in an interview with Fox News.
"Things were so bad that the Secret Service recommended the president go down to the bunker," Barr said last week.
As Trump obsesses over the reports, Democrats have seized on the appearance of the president being rushed to the bunker while demanding others "dominate" protesters.
"Go back to your bunker," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted after Trump criticized the city's response to the protests as too weak.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign has already released an ad criticizing Trump's response to the protests and mocking the bunker episode.
"Donald Trump: too scared to face the people, too weak to lead," the ad says. "The nation marches for justice, and like a deer in the headlights, he's paralyzed with fear. He doesn't know what to do, so he hides in his bunker."
And it is not only Democrats who have raised concerns over Trump's response to the protests. The president's rhetoric condemning the protests "sparked alarm" among his top political advisers who warned him that "he was on a path to defeat in November if he continued his incendiary behavior," according to The Times report.
Trump has pushed back by arguing, "I have to be myself."
But sources — the same leakers with whom Trump is obsessed — told The Times that the president's "repeated acts of self-sabotage" have "significantly damaged his re-election prospects, and yet he appears mostly unable, or unwilling, to curtail them."
Sources described Trump as "wallowing in self-pity about news coverage" and "using racist language."
"The president is acting trapped and defensive, and his self-destructive behavior has been so out of step for an incumbent in an election year," his advisers told The Times, "that many advisers wonder if he is truly interested in serving a second term."