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Inside the West Wing: Trump at “breaking point” on Mueller

President Trump at the White House
President Trump at the White House. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

It’s as if the post-election presidential transition to power never ended for Donald Trump. Or never began. Everything in this White House is in flux — and in play.

Why it matters: Some officials tell us it’s like Jan. 20, 2017, every day — with different characters and different plots, but the same maddening improviser, with the same maddening tricks:

  • No one knows — or even bothers claiming to know — what Trump will do next.
  • Few feel secure in their role or power.
  • Important jobs remain open; important confirmations pending.
  • The process has broken down, and White House chief of staff John Kelly has lost the steering wheel at critical moments.
  • Many days, it’s governing by winging it. 

Here's what's happening inside:

  • Trump's own psyche in flux: Sources close to the president genuinely fear special counsel Robert Mueller has passed a "breaking point" for Trump. More than one person has used that phrase to us. They worry the president will fire Mueller. A former senior White House official said to me: "I just hope [inside lawyer] Ty [Cobb] and [White House counsel] Don [McGahn] can talk him down."
    • But in the next sentence, this former official sighed and acknowledged how much Trump finds McGahn irritating and has turned against him.
  • Personnel in flux: A number of senior staff are leaving or planning to leave.
    • Larry Kudlow will likely lose a good deal of talent he wants to keep at the National Economic Council — with Shahira Knight, the tax expert who was the star of Gary Cohn's staff, at the top of the list.
    • John Bolton has taken charge of the National Security Council, and will be installing his own people.
    • Yesterday, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert resigned (though the White House has not pushed back on the suggestion he was pushed out.)
    • On Sunday, it was NSC spokesman (and early Trump supporter) Michael Anton. Lists of additional "targets" are circulating among Bolton's allies.
  • Policy uncertainty: Nobody in the White House or on Capitol Hill claims to know what's going to happen on trade. The business community and the markets are stressed about the threat of a global trade war, or a more intense one with China. Wall Street and K Street are rooting for Trump and Xi to find an exit ramp that allows both men to save face and claim victories, with minimal disruptions to the markets. 
  • Decision-making has been haphazard and processes have broken down. Exhibit A: Our inside account of the $100 billion tariffs threat last week. Even John Kelly was taken by surprise at the speed of the announcement.

Be smart: The result of all of this is a White House that often feels like madness, even to those present for opening night, and still in the cast today. 

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