Aug 11, 2019

Behind the scenes of Trump's Epstein-Clinton conspiracy tweet

Twitter logo as Trump illustration

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

On Saturday, the president of the United States retweeted a conspiracy theory video claiming Bill and Hillary Clinton had a hand in the death of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

The big picture: The news media did not treat this as a major story; the Sunday New York Times editors found a few inches for it on page 21. Times' columnist Ross Douthat captured the collective shrug in his tweet: "Dear God, next thing you know the president will accuse a political rival's family of being implicated in the JFK assassination!" (A reference to Trump's 2016 smear of Ted Cruz's father.)

Behind the scenes: I asked a senior White House official whether anybody internally did anything about the Clinton tweet. "I think we're beyond the point of trying to control these things," the official said.

  • White House officials, including press staff, say they rarely receive any forewarning before the president tweets something incendiary.
  • On the occasions they do get a heads-up, it's from Dan Scavino, the White House social media director who manages Trump's Twitter account.
  • Two sources familiar told me that on at least a few occasions, Scavino has taken dictation on an incendiary tweet from Trump, saved the tweet to drafts and given a small number of his colleagues advanced warning that this particular tweet might be coming.
  • But it's just a heads-up. Two and a half years into his presidency, Trump has kept his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account entirely his own.
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