Thursday, February 02, 2017
Leaking like the Titanic
We have never seen anything like this. And the wingnuts and ring kissers can pretend this is part of some master plan or present it as a genius form of organization but it is not. It is incompetence and paranoia, which is probably even more dangerous. Politico reports:
A feeling of distrust has taken hold in the West Wing of Donald Trump's White House and beyond, as his aides view each other and officials across the federal government and on Capitol Hill with suspicion.
Well sure. Besides, Jesus really only cares about tax cuts and fetuses, dontcha know. Refugee children wouldn't really rate with him.
The result has been a stream of leaks flowing from the White House and federal agencies, and an attempt to lock down information and communication channels that could have serious consequences across the government and at the Capitol, where Trump tries to implement and advance his agenda.
In the White House itself, one top aide tried to take the office slated for another aide, Steve Bannon is looking to hire his own PR guru, and the details of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders, typically closely held, are suddenly out in the open.
The starkest manifestation of the paranoia has played out with Trump's executive orders, as many key players were left in the dark as the White House forged ahead with sweeping, controversial policies.
While reports have emerged in recent days about various officials blindsided by the orders, interviews with several people involved in the process reveal the extent of the secrecy and chaos. The highly controversial immigration and travel ban signed by Trump last Friday was so tightly held that White House aides, top Cabinet officials, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and other Trump allies had no idea what was in it even when it was signed — and that was just how top advisers and aides wanted it.
"Someone would have leaked it," one administration official said.
Whether the chaos will actually hurt the president remains unclear. Trump's pick of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be his Supreme Court nominee has heartened conservatives, and many say they are willing to look past the drama of the Trump orbit if he passes the kind of conservative policies they want. Lanhee Chen, a former top aide to Mitt Romney, said his supporters would label his presidency a "huge victory because they see a president who looks like he's following through."
Senior Trump aides say they don't trust the agencies because they believe they are stacked with Democrats and people loyal to former President Barack Obama. "Every time something got to one of the agencies, it got out," one person said about various memos that were sent during the transition.
The White House really doesn't care because they don't care whether something is legal. They plan to rule by edict. The rest is nothing more than a game.
Until the agencies are filled with Trump people, the agencies are unlikely to get information quickly, several people involved in the administration say. Agency officials have been specifically directed to not tell others outside Trump world about their plans, people with knowledge of the conversations say. "They are really limiting their contact with us," one longtime government employee said.
Agency staff say the White House's unwillingness to share information is also causing issues because it is difficult to implement their executive orders or policies or study effectiveness unless the contents are known in advance. For instance, officials at the Department of Homeland Security say they could have better prepared for the travel ban had they not learned about the restrictions in real time. Instead, foreign travelers were left in limbo for hours at airports and were given conflicting information about their entry into the United States, as protests raged outside.
State Department officials, meanwhile, likely would have flagged problems in the executive order on reversing the decision on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. Experts say the order was flawed because it involved a company in the middle of suing the government.
It’s not just the agencies who feel left in the dark and distrusted by Trump’s White House. Capitol Hill leaders say they are trying to find "back channels" with policy experts and others to discern what the White House is doing. Last week, aides in House Speaker Paul Ryan's office tried to find out about the immigration order but couldn't.
"We'd hear a little bit of it," one senior GOP aide said. "We kind of knew it was out there, but we couldn't figure out exactly what they were going to say, and when they were going to say it."
They learned on TV, and "then we spent all weekend trying to clean up their mess," one person said. It took almost 36 hours after the ban was announced for the White House to send talking points. Had they sent the talking points earlier, and trusted others, surrogates could have helped them defend their policy, several top GOP aides said.
Inside the White House, several Trump staffers said they were shocked at the number of leaks coming out of the operation having not worked in the Trump orbit before. "People are just knifing each other," one of these people said.
That would be what's known in the vernacular as an "alternative fact." She knows this stuff is coming from the White House. For all we know some of it's coming from her. After all, until very recently, she was just another Villager hanging out with the DC in-crowd. Maybe she's the one talking out of turn. In fact, I think she is. Someone should tell Trumpie.
"Trying to nail down who the leakers are is like trying to count the cockroaches under the couch," said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump adviser who keeps in touch with some Trump aides.
More leaks sprung up in the past 24 hours, as reports emerged that Trump made provocative statements to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during phone calls with the foreign allies in recent days. According to a leaked transcript of his call with Peña Nieto, Trump threatened to send U.S. troops to stop "bad hombres down there" unless the Mexican military stepped up to control their domestic problems. On the Australia call, Trump reportedly blasted Turnbull for pushing the U.S. to honor an agreement to accept 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center and then abruptly cut off the phone call.
While articles popped up about dismay within the White House at some of these calls, Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, insisted on Thursday morning that the leaks aren’t coming from inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“Obviously, we're not commenting on private conversations in that way. We give a readout to the media on most conversations but we don't release transcripts and we certainly don't mischaracterize them as some others have. This is the practice for us though. We're the ones not leaking,” she told Fox News.
Despite the attempts to project a functional, harmonious White House, sources say it’s far from that. People involved in the administration sometimes don't trust each other because there are several camps that remain warring factions. Top Trump aides often travel with him to events they don't necessarily need to attend because they want to be close to the power center and in the pictures.
Steve Bannon — who has a loyal cadre of aides and allies, like Stephen Miller, the White House top policy adviser — has been expanding his power base in the White House. Two sources said Bannon is looking to bring in his own PR adviser, Alexandra Preate, into the White House. Preate has previously served as both Bannon’s spokeswoman and a spokeswoman for Breitbart News. He’s also hired Breitbart immigration writer Julia Hahn and former Breitbart national security editor Seb Gorka, among others, bringing them into policy roles.
Other Trump staffers have been chafing at what they view as Miller and Bannon’s secretive behavior, including their tendency to keep information from others in the White House, like on their executive orders.
The paranoia in the White House is also driven by the fact that no one is quite sure who is up and who is down, and who is on their side. One person involved in the administration described the conflict like this: "There are four chiefs of staff, and that's three too many."
In the past week, memorandums have leaked, trickling out from agencies, that the White House has denied were official documents. The White House has denied the documents, but dozens are floating around, and even senior officials sometimes say they have no idea if a document will be signed.
Sometimes, executive orders are canceled at the last minute, or added at the last minute, or changed at the last minute, with little explanation as to why to others.
And the power silos may get worse. Bannon and Kushner, who has stoked envy among others because of his enormous clout with the president, are creating their own separate group in the White House to create strategy.
Meanwhile, Priebus has stacked much of the West Wing with Republican aides from his time as chairman of the Republican National Committee. And he controls much of the hiring across the government. But that often means little in Trump world, because the president will make a decision based on one conversation. He will tell several people he wants them to handle an issue, creating competition.
Priebus aides and allies are wary of aides like Miller, who they believe give the president bad information and then Trump "takes it in, every bit of it, and that's just not good," one person said. Yet Miller himself was caught off guard when "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough on Monday launched into a broadside on his conduct and wondered what, or who, sparked the host to blame him, a person familiar with the issue said.
Conway, Trump’s final campaign manager who initially resisted a White House role, has repeatedly referenced Valerie Jarrett and their parallel roles to show her influence on the president. She irked others last week when several long profiles of her emerged in the news media, including one that called her the "face of the movement." A number of people close to Trump's orbit say Conway has been a little on the outside since the team moved to Washington, but Conway’s supporters note other men have also had flattering profiles, and the president continues to like and trust her.
"If you see me on TV, it's because the president wants me there," Conway recently told The Hollywood Reporter. A Conway friend said the grumbling was "ridiculous misogyny."
And Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump fundraiser who was expected to join the White House but now is unlikely to do so, has aligned himself with Bannon. People close to Scaramucci say the Wall Street executive believes Priebus or his allies are trying to damage him with bad stories in the news media, including about the ethics around the divestitures of his vast wealth. Priebus allies say that isn't true, but the stories have continued to come out with leaks about his controversial business transaction. Scaramucci has told people this is "a tough town," one person familiar with his comments said.
While he was in New York, Omarosa Manigault, another Trump aide, sought to take his office with a better view of the Washington Monument, according to people familiar with her move. Manigault now may get the office, since Scaramucci is now not expected to join the administration.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, said Trump would be largely unconcerned with all of the gossip. "He is not going to stop being Trump. He doesn't mind all the chaos," Stone said.
Stone said there might be a "burnout rate" of working with Trump. "And if his first team isn't getting the job done, if it's not coming together, he's perfectly capable of changing teams. You saw him do it three times during the campaign."
Trump has never run anything bigger than his little branding and real estate family business. He literally has no clue how to run a large organization, how the government functions or, really, how anything works. And, by the way, neither does even one person in his inner circle.
They are crazy, to be sure. And they are very, very bold. But they are incompetent and they are stupid.
This is the most 3rd rate administration in American history. We will be lucky to get out of it alive.
digby 2/02/2017 01:30:00 PM