Aug 3, 2019 - Politics & Policy

How the Trump White House works

President Trump talks to journalists before boarding Marine One

President Trump talks to journalists before boarding Marine One yesterday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump's sudden decision to cashier his choice for director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas — five days after announcing the pick on Twitter — is a microcosm of how this White House works.

Catch up quick: First, months ago, Trump hears from conservative friends that Ratcliffe is a loyal guy — on Team Trump. Then Trump is blown away by Ratcliffe’s TV performance as he hammered Robert Mueller during his House hearings.

  • Trump is eager to replace a man he doesn't like or trust — Dan Coats — and starts telling staff he wants Ratcliffe.
  • Nobody was ready to announce him last Sunday. But aides said that when Axios and then the N.Y. Times reported that Trump was seriously considering Ratcliffe, the president decided to move.
  • He went ahead and tweeted, a couple hours after the Axios story, that Ratcliffe was the pick.

A number of senior officials were skeptical about Ratcliffe. But as far as we can tell, nobody put up much of a fight to Trump before he announced Ratcliffe.

  • The White House appears to have done no vetting of Ratcliffe's résumé — assuming, perhaps, that if he'd been elected to Congress, he’d been vetted.

Between the lines: Per a source involved, it was only after Trump announced Ratcliffe that aides really scrambled to do a vulnerability assessment on their DNI candidate.

  • The media did it quicker, discovering that Ratcliffe "had exaggerated his role in terrorism and immigration enforcement cases when he served as a federal prosecutor in Texas," writes the Washington Post.

Two people close to Ratcliffe said that Ratcliffe made the decision to withdraw:

  • He didn't anticipate the intensity of the blowback against his potential nomination and his deceptive résumé.
  • A friend of Ratcliffe's said he decided not to put his family through the ordeal, given it was far from clear that at the end of it all, he’d have enough Republican votes to be confirmed.

The end ... Trump finished Ratcliffe off on Twitter, blaming the media instead of the congressman's inflation of his own biography:

President Trump tweets about Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas
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