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."

Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM. 

Go deeper

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Protesters on Tuesday evening by the metal fence recently erected outside the White House. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday night across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day — prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: The Army moved 1,600 soldiers from out of state into D.C. area, the Defense Department confirmed in a statement Tuesday. Protesters were still out en masse after curfews began in cities including Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and Portland.

Primary elections test impact of protests, coronavirus on voting

Election official at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the midst of a global pandemic and national protests over the death of George Floyd, eight states and the District of Columbia held primary elections on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, needs to win 425 of the 479 delegates up for grabs in order to officially clinch the nomination. There are a number of key down-ballot races throughout the country as well, including a primary in Iowa that could determine the fate of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Iowa Rep. Steve King defeated in GOP primary

Rep. Steve King. Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

State Sen. Randy Feenstra defeated incumbent Rep. Steve King in Tuesday's Republican primary for Iowa's 4th congressional district, according to the Cook Political Report.

Why it matters: King's history of racist remarks has made him one of the most controversial politicians in the country and a pariah within the Republican Party.