White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Blindsided White House aides in a perpetual state of surprise

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters yesterday that when Rudy Giuliani told the world on Wednesday that Donald Trump reimbursed his attorney for the hush-money payoff to a porn star in 2016, it was “the first awareness” she had of those details.

By all accounts, she wasn’t the only one who was surprised. The Washington Post had an interesting report yesterday on members of the president’s team having no idea in advance what Giuliani would say or why he’d say it.

The White House counsel had no idea. Neither did the White House chief of staff, nor the White House press secretary, nor the new White House lawyer overseeing its handling of the Russia investigation.

They watched, agog, as Giuliani, the president’s recently-installed personal attorney, freestyled on live television Wednesday night about the president’s legal troubles and unveiled an explosive new fact.

Making matters slightly worse, the Post  added that neither White House Counsel Donald McGahn nor Emmet Flood, the newest member of the president’s legal team, “knew that Trump had reimbursed Cohen before Giuliani revealed it on television Wednesday night.”

In other words, top White House officials weren’t just blindsided by Giuliani’s willingness to blurt out important details, they were also blindsided by the details themselves.

A Wall Street Journal article added that senior aides in the White House and the rest of his legal team were left “stunned” by the developments.

I don’t doubt that’s true. What I’m curious about, though, is whether personnel in the West Wing – at least the folks who’ve been around for a while – are getting used to that feeling.

When Trump tapped Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, White House officials were blindsided. When Trump threatened China with $100 billion in new tariffs, he’d consulted with no one and surprised nearly everyone on his team.

When Trump warned Russia to “get ready” because American missiles would soon strike Syria, he neglected to offer a similar warning to his own aides.

When the president asked Larry Kudlow to lead the White House National Economic Council, everyone in Trump World was caught off-guard. Similarly, no one on the president’s team knew he’d hire, and then soon after dismiss, Joe diGenova from his legal defense team.

As regular readers may recall, Trump’s aides were blindsided when he announced his intention to withdraw from Syria. They were blindsided when he threatened to veto an omnibus spending bill they’d told the public the president supported. Trump didn’t tell aides he’d ignore their guidance on what to say to Vladimir Putin. He didn’t tell them in advance about his tariffs policy. He didn’t involve them in his decision to meet with Kim Jong-un.

And those are just some of the most recent examples. As we discussed several weeks ago, this has become a staple of Trump’s presidency. His aides didn’t know that he’d denounce a House Republican surveillance bill that the White House supported. The White House staff was also surprised to learn that he’d announced via Twitter that Christopher Wray was his choice to lead the FBI. They were equally startled to read Trump’s tweets banning transgender Americans from military service.

White House aides also didn’t know in advance that Trump would falsely accuse Barack Obama via Twitter of tapping his phone. They also had no idea that the president would tweet news about John Kelly serving as chief of staff.

The Washington Post  put it in March, “The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania.” The same week, the New York Times added, ”Inside the West Wing, aides described an atmosphere of bewildered resignation.”

Politico quoted a former White House official saying some aides are “at their wits’ end.”

That was over a month ago – before members of Team Trump learned from the media that the president didn’t tell the truth about reimbursing his lawyer for buying the silence of a porn star.

The question isn’t why the Trump White House is facing a staffing crisis; the question is why the crisis isn’t worse.

Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and White House

Blindsided White House aides in a perpetual state of surprise