Donald Trump likes to be seen as a strong president who commands respect, which has long been a tough image to maintain given his often ridiculous antics. But the Republican’s reputation suffered irreparable harm last week, when the public saw Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which documented a series of incidents in which Trump’s aides ignored some of his most outlandish directions.
This morning, as the Associated Press reported, the president pushed back.
President Donald Trump says that “nobody” disobeys his orders, a reference to the Mueller report, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of his presidency.
Trump made the comments Monday during the annual Easter Egg roll when asked by reporters about special counsel Robert Mueller’s portrayal of a White House in which staffers often ignore the president’s orders.
The report suggested that some of those refusals helped protect the president from himself.
But Trump insisted Monday that: “Nobody disobeys my orders.”
Before the Mueller report’s release, we already knew that Trump’s team routinely ignored the president’s instructions. Bob Woodward’s latest book, for example, highlighted an incident in which Trump directed then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to prepare a plan to kill Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Mattis listened, told Trump he’d get right on that, hung up the phone, and told a senior aide, “We’re not going to do any of that.”
As we discussed several months ago, this comes up with alarming regularity. For example, Trump announced in June 2018 that he had “instructed” U.S. officials “not to endorse” an official G-7 communique negotiated by diplomats from member nations. Officials didn’t much care about the tweet and they proceeded to ignore Trump’s online instructions.
A few months earlier, the president announced via Twitter that Russia should “get ready” because he was poised to launch a military offensive in Syria. White House officials found Trump’s declaration “distracting,” and proceeded “as if nothing had happened.”
“What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote a while back. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials…. The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments.”
But the Mueller report took this dynamic to an even more embarrassing level.
As the Washington Post explained last week:
Trump often asks aides to falsely deny things or do things that make them uncomfortable. Oftentimes, they simply didn’t follow through.
In one section, then-White House counsel Donald McGahn got a message from Trump’s personal lawyer saying Trump wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying a New York Times report that said Trump had tried to fire Mueller. McGahn declined, because Trump had in fact tried to fire Mueller.
In another instance, Trump asked outgoing deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland to draft an internal email stating Trump hadn’t instructed national security adviser Michael Flynn to speak with the Russian ambassador about sanctions during the transition period. (This is the episode that Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about.) But McFarland didn’t know that to be true, so she didn’t do it.
Trump also asked former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to reach out to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get him to attack the Mueller probe, but Lewandowski simply dragged his feet. After Trump brought it up again a month later, Lewandowski asked senior White House aide Rick Dearborn to do it. Dearborn didn’t do it either, because he was uncomfortable.
This is a partial list. The special counsel’s report listed a series of others in Trump’s orbit who also blew off his instructions.
The Mueller report itself explained, “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
“Nobody disobeys my orders”? If Trump actually believes that, I have some bad news for him.