Updated Sep 6, 2018

Exclusive: Trump's nightmare: "The snakes are everywhere"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump is not just seething about Bob Woodward. He’s deeply suspicious of much of the government he oversees — from the hordes of folks inside agencies, right up to some of the senior-most political appointees and even some handpicked aides inside his own White House, officials tell Axios.

The big picture: He should be paranoid. In the hours after the New York Times published the anonymous Op-Ed from "a senior official in the Trump administration" trashing the president ("I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration"), two senior administration officials reached out to Axios to say the author stole the words right out of their mouths.

  • "I find the reaction to the NYT op-ed fascinating — that people seem so shocked that there is a resistance from the inside," one senior official said. "A lot of us [were] wishing we’d been the writer, I suspect ... I hope he [Trump] knows — maybe he does? — that there are dozens and dozens of us."

Why it matters: Several senior White House officials have described their roles to us as saving America and the world from this president.

  • A good number of current White House officials have privately admitted to us they consider Trump unstable, and at times dangerously slow.
  • But the really deep concern and contempt, from our experience, has been at the agencies — and particularly in the foreign policy arena.

For some time last year, Trump even carried with him a handwritten list of people suspected to be leakers undermining his agenda.

  • "He would basically be like, 'We’ve gotta get rid of them. The snakes are everywhere but we’re getting rid of them,'" said a source close to Trump.
  • Trump would often ask staff whom they thought could be trusted. He often asks the people who work for him what they think about their colleagues, which can be not only be uncomfortable but confusing to Trump: Rival staffers shoot at each other and Trump is left not knowing who to believe.

Officials describe an increasingly conspiracy-minded president:

  • "When he was super frustrated about the leaks, he would rail about the 'snakes' in the White House," said a source who has discussed administration leakers with the president.
  • "Especially early on, when we would be in Roosevelt Room meetings, he would sit down at the table, and get to talking, then turn around to see who was sitting along the walls behind him."
  • "One day, after one of those meetings, he said, 'Everything that just happened is going to leak. I don’t know any of those people in the room.' ... He was very paranoid about this."

The Times Op-Ed reinforces everything Trump instinctively believes:

  • That a "Deep State" exists. It's trying to undermine him and — in the case of Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, in Trump’s mind — is trying to overthrow his presidency.
  • The Bob Woodward book, Trump believes, exposes that leakers are everywhere — and gunning for him. 

Be smart: "People talk about the loyalists leaving," the source close to Trump tells us. "What it really means is [that there'll be] fewer and fewer people who Trump knows who they really are. So imagine how paranoid you must be if that is your view of the world."

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