Apr 11, 2018

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

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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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 1,202,827 — Total deaths: 64,771 — Total recoveries: 246,886Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 312,076 — Total deaths: 8,496 — Total recoveries: 14,997Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

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The latest: The United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II will speak in a televised address on the coronavirus Sunday of the "disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all," per the BBC. The U.K. death toll rose 708 to 4,313 on Saturday — the fourth highest in the world.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 8,400 in the U.S. on Saturday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest week, between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. should expect to see deaths continue to rise in this period.

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