Inside the West Wing: Trump at “breaking point” on Mueller
It’s as if the post-election presidential transition to power never ended for Donald Trump. Or never began. Everything in this White House is in flux — and in play.
Why it matters: Some officials tell us it’s like Jan. 20, 2017, every day — with different characters and different plots, but the same maddening improviser, with the same maddening tricks:
- No one knows — or even bothers claiming to know — what Trump will do next.
- Few feel secure in their role or power.
- Important jobs remain open; important confirmations pending.
- The process has broken down, and White House chief of staff John Kelly has lost the steering wheel at critical moments.
- Many days, it’s governing by winging it.
Here's what's happening inside:
- Trump's own psyche in flux: Sources close to the president genuinely fear special counsel Robert Mueller has passed a "breaking point" for Trump. More than one person has used that phrase to us. They worry the president will fire Mueller. A former senior White House official said to me: "I just hope [inside lawyer] Ty [Cobb] and [White House counsel] Don [McGahn] can talk him down."
- But in the next sentence, this former official sighed and acknowledged how much Trump finds McGahn irritating and has turned against him.
- Personnel in flux: A number of senior staff are leaving or planning to leave.
- Larry Kudlow will likely lose a good deal of talent he wants to keep at the National Economic Council — with Shahira Knight, the tax expert who was the star of Gary Cohn's staff, at the top of the list.
- John Bolton has taken charge of the National Security Council, and will be installing his own people.
- Yesterday, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert resigned (though the White House has not pushed back on the suggestion he was pushed out.)
- On Sunday, it was NSC spokesman (and early Trump supporter) Michael Anton. Lists of additional "targets" are circulating among Bolton's allies.
- Policy uncertainty: Nobody in the White House or on Capitol Hill claims to know what's going to happen on trade. The business community and the markets are stressed about the threat of a global trade war, or a more intense one with China. Wall Street and K Street are rooting for Trump and Xi to find an exit ramp that allows both men to save face and claim victories, with minimal disruptions to the markets.
- Decision-making has been haphazard and processes have broken down. Exhibit A: Our inside account of the $100 billion tariffs threat last week. Even John Kelly was taken by surprise at the speed of the announcement.
Be smart: The result of all of this is a White House that often feels like madness, even to those present for opening night, and still in the cast today.
Get more stories like this by signing up for our weekly political lookahead newsletter, Axios Sneak Peek.