Senior foreign policy officials: “chain is tightening quickly” on White House staffers who acted without consulting them
President Trump is going to run into real trouble if he lets his White House staff pull end runs on the likes of General Mattis . . .
Over the weekend, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were given extraordinary access to President Trump and his foreign policy team. On today’s Morning Joe, they gave their takeaways from their interview of the president and a number of his senior advisors.
Scarborough painted a picture of White House staffers in a battle with the senior foreign policy team. Scarborough singled out Stephen Miller, saying “you’ve got a very young person in the White House on a power trip thinking that you can just write executive orders and tell all of your cabinet agencies to go to hell.”
Scarborough reported that the senior officials are poised to strike back. The senior policy team “said, basically, we hope the young staff members at the White House enjoyed their time trying to make policy on their own without talking to us, because that will never happen again. The exact quote is the chain is tightening quickly.”
Joe and Mika also met with Dem senators and were struck by their muted response to the immigration ban: “despite what you see on TV, they are still jarred by the election result and I expected them to be far angrier in person. I expected them to be saying we are going to get Trump on — no. They said . . . we have no doubt that the majority of America probably supports this and we have to figure out how to get our message to America to explain why these things that help get Donald Trump elected were wrong. Their reaction was far different than I expected.”
Note: in particular, Scarborough indicated that Miller was behind the issuance of an executive memo issued on Saturday that removed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence as permanent members at National Security Council meetings and making Steve Bannon a permanent member. Scarborough said he spent several hours on Sunday nailing down the fact that such policy had been reversed, and that in fact the Joint Chiefs Chairman and DNI are by statute permanent NSC members.
Note segundo: Scarborough reported that President Trump did not express or suggest that he felt the rollout of the immigration ban had gotten off to a bad start. But, Scarborough reported, “those around” the president think it got off “very badly” because of bad communications, a failure to explain what it was and wasn’t, and above all the failure to have vetted it with the various agencies. So again, the finger was being pointed back at White House staff.
Scarborough also suggested that if in the future Mattis, Kelly and Tillerson were left out of the loop, “the president would have serious problems with his foreign policy team.”
JOE SCARBOROUGH: We met with the president yesterday, but the night before met with members of Barack Obama’s foreign policy team, Democratic senators who — I’m really surprised by Democratic senators’ reaction to this, as well as speaking to members of the president’s foreign policy team that has gained, I think, almost universal acclaim. And I think the biggest takeaway this weekend from all of the discussions had to do from that foreign policy team who said, basically, we hope the staff, the young staff members at the White House enjoyed their time trying to make policy on their own without talking to us, because that will never happen again. The chain, the exact quote is the chain is tightening quickly.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And a few takeaways from the meeting with the president?
JOE: Well, I think the biggest takeaway and one that took me a while to nail down was the fact that the White House claimed even yesterday afternoon, and David, this is something that sent shock waves through the foreign-policy community, there had been the news breaking that the Director of National Intelligence and also the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs were taken off the permanent NSC committee. Shocking ommission
The White House claimed — not the president, but his staff, claimed that that wasn’t the case. If you looked at the language, those were the only two who were statutorily required to be on there. So they said, no, no, no. We are adding Bannon but those two are staying on there. I will say it took me four hours to nail that down. I spent the next four hours on the phone saying I want this in writing. Because I’m not seeing it anywhere. And four or five hours later, they confirmed yes, they are both on the permanent committee, yes it’s directed statutorily.
Then that of course begged the next question: well then, why did you put out that paper? Which is also—why did Stephen Miller fight so hard to put out this order on Friday without talking to any of the other agencies? And Bob Costa will, I’m sure all of you will report that this, that it was Stephen Miller sitting in the White House saying we’re not going to go to the other agencies. We’re not going to talk to the lawyers. We’re going to do this all alone. And I’ll just say it right here and reporting will bear this out, you’ve got a very young person in the White House on a power trip, thinking that you can just write executive orders and tell all of your cabinet agencies to go to hell. And Washington’s in an uproar this morning. Forget about what is happening in the street because Stephen Miller decided he was going to do this without going through the regular interagency process.
DAVID IGNATIUS: You had a chance to talk to the president. Did you have any sense that he felt that he had made a mistake? This immigration order Friday night has drawn a level of protest, including legal rulings staying some of the effects, that’s unusual for our country. Does the president have any sense that maybe I went off too quickly on this and maybe there’s something I didn’t see here?
JOE: The president did not say that. And he didn’t suggest that. But those around him, you can tell, there had been discussions and that those around him, I think, believe that this got off very badly for several reasons. First of all, they didn’t explain it to the media, they didn’t communicate it properly. They didn’t explain what it was and what it wasn’t. And then, of course, the much, much larger problem was there was no vetting with the agencies. The president’s feeling was this is what I promised people to do. In fact, we took the seven countries from Barack Obama’s list from 2015 of the seven countries that caused the biggest problem. So we lifted the language from there. So their feeling was, it wasn’t a Muslim ban. We used Obama’s seven countries in 2015 and then they added three more in 2016. And, of course, they were talking about their 45 Muslim-majority countries that weren’t on this list. That’s the sort of thing that you don’t talk about on Sunday. That is the sort of thing you talk about last week while you’re building up to this.
IGNATIUS: So for the key senior people, we think of General Mattis, at Defense, we think of General Kelly at Homeland Security, we think of Rex Tillerson presumably coming to State. Was this a lesson for them they need to push back harder earlier to prevent political types at the White House from making mistakes that hurt the president, hurt the country?
JOE: I can’t speak for them this morning, but that is certainly from the several that I spoke with, yes. This would not happen again and if this did happen again, the president would have serious problems with his foreign policy team.
. . .
I was struck by the Democratic senators’ response. They are still, despite what you see on TV, they are still jarred by the election result and I expected them to be far angrier in person. I expected them to be saying we’re going to get Trump on the — no. They said at our retreat in West Virginia and we talked to Trump supporters, we have no doubt that the majority of America probably supports this and we have to figure out how to get our message to America to explain why these things that helped get Donald Trump elected were wrong. Their reaction far different than I expected.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.