Vice President Mike Pence's new national security adviser steps down after reported pushback from Trump
On Sunday night, Jon Lerner resigned as Vice President Mike Pence's national security adviser, just three days after Pence appointed him to the job. Lerner, who is the top deputy to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, did not give a reason in the statement released by Pence's office, but Axios reports that Lerner stepped aside to avoid causing any more distractions in the White House. "The vice president's team has always conducted business without drama and agreed with Jon that we can continue to look upon Jon for advice without causing any distractions," a source familiar with the deliberations told Axios.
Earlier Sunday, Axios' Jonathan Swan reported that President Trump moved to block Lerner from coming on board Friday, furious because Lerner had worked as a pollster and ad maker for Club For Growth when the conservative group was spending millions of dollars to knock Trump out of the Republican primaries. Trump told Chief of Staff to get rid of Lerner on Friday, Axios said, but Pence called Trump after landing in Peru and learning about the kerfuffle, and was able to get Trump to drop his opposition. There was also reportedly concern in the White House that Lerner would have been spread too thin working for both Pence and Haley, and suggestions that he lacked the proper background in national security and foreign policy. Peter Weber
Trump's White House is so 'toxic' and uncertain, aides are reportedly betting on who will be fired next
After the latest round of firings, there's an unprecedented "mood of acute anxiety" in President Trump's White House, Axios reports. "Nobody knows what exactly is happening, who's about to be fired, or which staffer will next be frogmarched out the door by security for some shadowy clearance issue." A White House official tells Axios that Trump is running "the most toxic working environment on the planet. There's no leadership, no trust, no direction, and this point there's very little hope."
Rumors are swirling that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will be replaced by John Bolton, and Chief of Staff John Kelly by ... somebody. "Multiple [people] have told me they are unsure who could be fired or walked out next," says CNN's Kaitlan Collins. Jonathan Swan at Axios adds: "I keep hearing people telling me X person is imminently gone from the White House, but nobody serious really knows anything." The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey has this report:
White House officials have begun betting pools of sorts among each other on who's getting ousted next. Lot of people who are usually in the know are not in the know. Always fluid in White House but seems particularly so right now.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) March 14, 2018
Amid the uncertainty, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol passes along some rumors involving EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller:
This is RUMINT, but pretty credible RUMINT: Trump preparing to fire Sessions, name Pruitt Acting AG (which he can be since he already holds a Senate confirmed position), and Pruitt fires Mueller. And McMaster likely to be replaced by Bolton. Shulkin also on way out, FWIW.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 14, 2018
"Would you want to go to work every day not knowing whether your future career was going to be destroyed without explanation?" the White House official asks Axios. For some people, the answer is obviously yes. Peter Weber
A year into his first term, President Trump is on his second White House chief of staff, second national security adviser, third deputy national security adviser, second press secretary, fifth communications director, and second HHS secretary, and that doesn't count all the vacancies. The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is also in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and John DeStefano oversees three White House offices: personnel, public liaison, and political affairs. This isn't normal, says Peter Baker at The New York Times.
"We have vacancies on top of vacancies," Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who has studied White House turnover at the Brookings Institution, tells the Times. In fact, more than a third of Trump's hires have left, and "some administration officials privately spend much of their time trying to figure out how to leave without looking disloyal or provoking an easily angered president," the Times reports:
According to a report by Ms. Tenpas, Mr. Trump's 34 percent turnover rate in his first year is more than three times as high as President Barack Obama's in the same period and twice as high as President Ronald Reagan's, which until now was the modern record-holder. Of 12 positions deemed most central to the president, only five are still filled by the same person as when Mr. Trump took office. [The New York Times]
The fear of losing yet another senior aide is one of the reasons the White House was reluctant to push out staff secretary Rob Porter, despite being informed he would not be granted security clearance due to domestic violence accusations, Baker reports. White House jobs are usually highly sought-after, he adds, but "Republican operatives said they worry not only about the pressure-cooker, soap-opera atmosphere and the danger of being drawn into the special counsel investigation of Russia's election interference but also about hurting their careers after the White House." You can read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber
The Trump White House counsel's office employs an opposition researcher who used to work for the Kochs. No one's sure why.
"Few people in or close to the White House have any idea what Michael Roman does all day," says Nancy Cook at Politico. Roman's title, a special assistant to the president and director of special projects and research, earns him a $115,000 White House salary but doesn't offer many clues about his responsibilities. His background is opposition research for Republican candidates and the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners group, and that is an odd fit for the White House counsel's office, where Roman works, reporting to White House Counsel Don McGahn, Politico says.
McGahn represented the conservative Koch network when Roman was head of research at Freedom Partners; there, Roman and his 25-person operation tracked the activities of Democratic political organizers and donors, among other things, Politico reports. Roman's unit was disbanded in 2016, and the Trump campaign hired him to oversee poll-watching and voter "integrity" efforts.
During a stint as a Breitbart News blogger from 2009 to 2011, Roman frequently wrote about alleged voter fraud in Pennsylvania and New York, as well as the Justice Department's actions regarding the Black Panther Party. He is perhaps most famous for circulating a video of two New Black Panthers outside a North Philadelphia voter station in 2008; the clip was broadcast repeatedly on Fox News.
Some people familiar with President Trump's White House told Politico that Roman is researching the social media accounts and financial backgrounds of special appointees, while others described him more generally as McGahn's researcher or "loyal soldier." Typically, if a White House hires an opposition researcher or investigator, it's for the advance or scheduling offices, to make sure the president and first lady don't appear alongside sketchy people. Roman, McGahn, and the White House declined to comment to Politico, where you can read the entire report. Peter Weber
The Trump White House did not have a hair and makeup staffer until Anthony Scaramucci, during his 11 days as communications director, gave professional stylist Katie Price a shout-out on CNN, saying to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: "Sarah, if you're watching, I loved the hair and makeup person we had on Friday. ... So I'd like to continue to use the hair and makeup person." President Trump dropped Scaramucci but hired Price full-time, thanks in part to Scaramucci's on-air praise, Politico reports. Now Price is on the White House payroll, bearing the title "production assistant"; officials declined to tell Politico her salary before it becomes public next summer.
Before joining the White House staff, Price's clients included CNN, Russia Today, and Meredith Vieira, according to her business website and LinkedIn bio, both of which she apparently deleted after Politico started asking about her background. She mainly does hair and makeup for Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, and any other White House official going on camera, "with some notable exceptions," Politico says: "She doesn't touch the president or other members of the Trump family."
The Obama White House did not have a government-funded stylist — though it also "never employed a female press secretary," Politico notes — and neither did the Clinton administration. Former President George W. Bush put makeup artist Lois Cassano on the payroll from the beginning, though, like Price, she also handled other staff duties like managing the press and answering phones.
Price "appears to be enjoying the unique position in which she has found herself," Politico says. "On social media, she often posts portraits of herself attending public events in the Rose Garden, often filed under hashtags like #LoveMyJob, #TaxCuts, and #Blessed." Sanders calls Price "a great addition to the team," praising "her talent and her support of what we're doing. You don't want someone who doesn't support what we're doing or want to be here." Read more at Politico. Peter Weber
After a July 20 meeting in a secure room at the Pentagon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called President Trump a "moron," shocking the handful of senior administration officials at the meeting, NBC News reports, citing three officials "present or briefed on the incident." The previous day, Trump had threatened to fire the U.S. general commanding the Afghanistan war and compared troop deployment decisions to the renovation of the 21 Club restaurant in New York, but Tillerson was also reportedly upset about being undercut by the president on U.S. policy on Qatar and Iran, among other places.
Then, after Trump gave an overly partisan campaign-style talk to the Boy Scouts, Tillerson — an Eagle Scout and former president of the Boy Scouts of America — threatened to quit, NBC reports, citing "multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time." Tillerson, in Texas for his son's wedding, threatened not to return, but was strongly urged to stay on by his closest allies in the administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis and soon-to-be Chief of Staff James Kelly, NBC News says. When he returned, Vice President Mike Pence reportedly arranged a meeting to defuse the tensions and counsel Tillerson to work within Trump's policy framework.
The tensions flared again last weekend when Trump tweeted that Tillerson should stop trying to use diplomacy on North Korea, right after Tillerson had announced direct contact with Pyongyang. The White House declined NBC News' request for comment, and Tillerson's top State Department spokesman, R.C. Hammond, denied that Tillerson called Trump a "moron," was angry over Trump's Boy Scouts speech, or had any policy differences with Trump. You can read more at NBC News. Peter Weber
Ivanka Trump picked a conspicuously bad moment to not-so-casually drop in to the Oval Office on Wednesday
Congressional Republicans "have banked on at least one comforting constant" during President Trump's tenure, say Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman at The New York Times: "However unpredictable, disengaged, backbiting, or belligerent he has been to them, he has been unwilling to ditch them for the Democrats." That changed on Wednesday, when Trump sided with the Democratic leaders, Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), against top Republicans and his treasury secretary on a deal to raise the debt limit for three months, not up to 18 months as Republicans wanted.
Republicans were "shellshocked" by Trump's move, according to several accounts of Wednesday's meeting, then furious. And just after Trump allied with the Democrats, Ivanka Trump walked in, CNN reports. Legislators and staff members described the moment as "instantly iconic, and not in a good way," Thrush and Haberman report. Here's the version they heard:
Trump often invites his daughter Ivanka Trump into meetings to signal their conclusion — or to keep his interlocutors off balance. When Ms. Trump entered the office toward the end of the discussion on Wednesday, ostensibly to discuss tax reform, Republicans in the room reacted with astonishment and annoyance. [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell, who is barely on speaking terms with the president, quietly seethed, according to two people familiar with the situation. [The New York Times]
And from The Atlantic:
Another aide briefed on the meeting said that toward its conclusion, Ivanka Trump entered the room to say hello to the leaders and the discussion veered off-track. "Republican leaders were visibly annoyed by Ivanka's presence," the aide said. [The Atlantic]
Ivanka Trump, who also serves as a White House adviser, "entered the Oval Office to 'say hello' and the meeting careened off-topic," a congressional source briefed on the meeting told CNN's Deirdre Walsh. Some Republican leaders were "visibly annoyed by Ivanka's presence," the source said. But House Speaker Paul Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong refuted that characterization, saying, "That's not true." [CNN]
CNN's Betsy Klein says that the "casual drop-by from daughter Ivanka Trump" is a well-known Trump gambit in "high-profile meetings" dating back to when Ivanka was in high school. Officially, the president invited his daughter into Wednesday's meeting to discuss the child care tax credit, but she has also dropped in during recent high-stakes newspaper interviews. GOP leaders apparently won't miss this trick when Ivanka returns to New York. Peter Weber
Keith Schiller, President Trump's trusted longtime bodyguard and the White House director of Oval Office operations, has worked for Trump since 1999. But as he prepares to leave for greener pastures, Trump's friends are worried about how the loss will affect Trump's psyche, they tell Axios. Trump believes that Schiller "tells him the truth because the only dog he has in the fight is the boss," one friend says, and so Trump seeks his advice on everything. Politically, Schiller, a former NYPD officer, is "a Breitbart-style conservative who kept Trump in touch with the Republican base and with the law enforcement community," Axios reports. "He's a winger!" a Schiller friend says. "He's one of us."
Schiller is reportedly moving on so he can make more money, like he did in his pre-White House role with the Trump Organization. But the controls new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has placed on Trump's visitors have also reduced Schiller's role as Trump's gut-instinct gatekeeper, divining who the president wanted to see at any given time. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has enjoyed good access to Trump and his circle, agrees that losing Schiller will be an emotional adjustment for Trump.
A legitimate question. Schiller is the ultimate emotional binky for Trump https://t.co/RwaGrr3rzy
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 4, 2017
Maybe that's why most presidents get dogs. Peter Weber