Aug 19, 2018

Behind the scenes: Trump's habit of blurting

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump’s staff has learned a hard lesson. If the president says something in private, no matter how geopolitically fraught, it's only a matter of time before he blurts it out in public.

Between the lines: Trump’s Wall Street Journal interview this week is just the latest example of this habit. In that interview, he contradicted the White House's official narrative by saying he had revoked John Brennan’s security clearance because of the Russia probe. It's far from the first time Trump has publicly blurted out something that his aides privately implored him to keep under wraps.

Behind the scenes: A source who's spent hours with Trump in confidential White House settings told me the Journal interview brought back bad memories.

  • Not only of Trump's interview last year with NBC's Lester Holt — when the president admitted "this Russia thing with Trump" was on his mind when he fired then-FBI director James Comey — but of other times when Trump blurted out thoughts he'd previously expressed in private that his national security team hoped would stay that way.

The two examples the source gave:

  • In a private meeting last summer, Trump asked senior national security aides, including then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster, what would happen if the U.S. invaded Venezuela. The aides warned Trump against the idea, but he ended up blurting out publicly that he wasn't ruling out a "military option" in Venezuela. (The AP first reported Trump's private comments.)
  • For weeks earlier this year, Trump had been telling national security officials that Syria was a disaster and he wanted to withdraw U.S. troops ASAP. His aides, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, privately urged him not to say anything. When Trump traveled to Ohio for an infrastructure event in March, the text of his speech said nothing about foreign policy, according to a source with direct knowledge of the remarks. But Trump got up on stage and blurted out that the U.S. would be "coming out of Syria, like, very soon."

The bottom line: Trump's aides have learned the hard way that once they hear the president say something privately — no matter how harmful it might be — it's only a matter of time before he blurts it out publicly.

  • "When something is on his mind, everybody will know it soon," the source told me. "The only thing you can do is once you hear him say something privately, start preparing talking points because sooner or later you will hear it in public."

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