White House leaks portray Trump as angry and lashing out
'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on the press coverage of recent staff shakeups at the White House and leaks by those surrounding Trump that portray him as angry and lashing out.
It's like we're back in the spring of 2017: Looming staff shakeups! The chief of staff may be out! The White House is in chaos. Nobody can rein in Donald Trump!
And once again, those surrounding Trump are leaking like crazy.
But a bit of perspective here: Presidents usually shake up their teams after midterm elections — especially losing midterm elections — and some officials naturally decide it's time to move on.
With the exception of the firing of Jeff Sessions — given the controversial pick of his anti-Mueller interim replacement, Matt Whitaker — I don't know why the press needs to treat every rumor of a White House or Cabinet change as the coming of the apocalypse.
But the planned staff moves are morphing into a larger narrative of an angry president lashing out and blowing off some of his duties while his staff is steaming, according to reports in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Politico.
There's not much question that Trump has seemed more aggressive and aggrieved since the Democrats captured the House (their haul is now up to 33 seats and counting). Even Melania has gotten in on the shakeup action.
Insiders tell me the president is unhappy, disappointed in some top aides, and ready to make changes. He has also, in my view, made some missteps in the process.
But does this add up to a portrait of an out-of-control leader?
When The Washington Post quotes historian Doug Brinkley as saying "he's just a bull carrying his own china shop with him," is that bull?
The president felt compelled to hit back in the face of these stories, tweeting this morning: "The White House is running very smoothly and the results for our Nation are obviously very good. We are the envy of the world. But anytime I even think about making changes, the FAKE NEWS MEDIA goes crazy, always seeking to make us look as bad as possible! Very dishonest!"
The Post piece on "five days of fury" ranges from a testy Trump call with Theresa May to skipping a planned World War I remembrance at a cemetery in France. "Trump quickly grew infuriated by a torrent of tweets and media coverage suggesting that the president was afraid of the rain and did not respect veterans ... "The president also was angry and resentful over French President Emmanuel Macron's public rebuke of rising nationalism, which Trump considered a personal attack."
It also ranges from Trump tweeting about "FRAUD" in the Florida elections to the revoking of Jim Acosta's credentials to the president telling CNN reporter Abby Phillip that she asks "stupid questions."
The L.A. Times has a similar story about a "brooding" Trump: "The president has lashed out at several aides, from junior press assistants to senior officials. 'He's furious,' said one administration official. 'Most staffers are trying to avoid him.'"
Politico, like the other outlets, deals with possible personnel moves, zeroing in on "bottled-up hostility" and "a fresh round of backbiting" among the staff.
The president has told others he wants to dump Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security chief, which has been obvious as he has blamed her for problems at the border.
And he is once again said to be weighing the departure of John Kelly (in favor of Mike Pence's top aide Nick Ayers). We have been through endless rounds of chatter about Kelly, which seemed to end when the president announced he's staying through 2020. So it's not clear whether this will blow over.
But then came what is truly a bizarre spectacle. Melania Trump took on deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel with this public statement: "It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House." (The Wall Street Journal reported that Ricardel was gone, then retracted it, and the situation is now unclear.)
Many first ladies, including Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, have obviously had a strong influence on their husband and gotten staffers fired. But to put out a statement is beyond unusual, prompting speculation that Melania was trying to accomplish privately what she failed to do behind the scenes.
So it's a tumultuous time for the president, no question. But keep in mind that those leaking all these anecdotes to journalists may have their own agendas.