President Donald Trump consumed Thursday morning’s TV headlines with amusement. Reports of tumult in the administration were at a feverish pitch — even on his beloved Fox News — as the president reflected on the latest staff departures during an Oval Office conversation with Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff John Kelly.
With a laugh, Trump said: “Who’s next?”
It’s the very question that has the whole White House on edge.
Indeed. And from reports, a lot of gallows humor.
It looks like Kelly is safe —
— Paul Szoldra (@PaulSzoldra) March 16, 2018
But it does look like Trump is ready to oust Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and find a new national security adviser before the North Korea meetings in May.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pushed back on reports that McMaster may be headed out the door in a tweet, saying,”Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.”
But she seems to be the only one who says that. However, the move may be delayed because there’s no final decision on a replacement, sources say. The timing of an announcement is unclear — one source said it could come as soon as today, though others say that is unlikely.
The most talked-about replacement for McMaster is John Bolton, who is more than just a hawk. He’s an outright war monger. He pushed the whole “Iraq has WMDs” back in the Bush days, and is a proponent of the pre-emptive strike.
Another observation — Trump seems to be replacing his cabinet with people he sees on TV. Larry Kudlow replaces outgoing economic advisor Gary Cohn, for example. And it’s not that Kudlow isn’t qualified, but I don’t think that is the issue. He was picked because Trump “knows” him — and Trump know him from TV. A leading contender to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is Pete Hegseth, the co-host of “Fox and Friends Weekend.” Same deal, I suspect, with Bolton, a commentator on Fox News.
Who else? Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on the chopping block, rumor has it. To be replaced by Scott Pruitt, who is doing zero at the EPA. But Sessions is reviewing a recommendation to fire the former F.B.I. deputy director, Andrew G. McCabe, just days before he is scheduled to retire on Sunday. McCabe is ensnared in an internal review that includes an examination of his decision in 2016 to allow F.B.I. officials to speak with reporters about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that McCabe was not forthcoming during the review, according to the people briefed on the matter. That yet-to-be-released report triggered an F.B.I. disciplinary process that recommended his termination — leaving Mr. Sessions to either accept or reverse that decision.
So a guy who might be fired probably won’t be fired until he fires another guy.
All this, of course, gives rise to the sense of chaos and unease in the White House. Trump reportedly like this, but you can’t run a country this way. Kelly, who is the Chief of STAFF may be safe in his job, but he can’t control his boss’s desire to mess with the staff. He’s working for a man who thrives on creating chaos and division. He’s working for a man who just told a group of donors that not only does he not know the basics of his job, but that he lies to allies about it, and is willing to betray allies, based on the made-up facts rambling around in his best brain.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine Kelly throwing up his hands and getting out with his dignity intact.
UPDATE: At the regular press briefing, Sanders tamps down rumors:
Sarah Sanders on potential White House shakeups in coming days:
“The chief of staff actually spoke to a number of staff this morning, reassuring that there were personnel changes…no immediate personnel changes and people shouldn’t be concerned.” pic.twitter.com/Rs0GxC9gK2
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 16, 2018