Donald Trump is not immune to political pressure, and he has been known to change direction on occasion. The president recently reversed course on his family-separation policy, for example, facing an untenable political backlash. We’ve also seen Trump reverse course on labeling China a currency manipulator, and when advising Congress on assorted legislative strategies.
Today’s reversal, however, was a little harder to predict. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump on Friday walked back his order earlier this week to declassify information in the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying Justice Department officials and others had persuaded him not to do so for the time being.
The retreat from his declassification decree issued just four days ago underscores the ongoing tensions between the White House and the Justice Department over the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether any Trump associates may have conspired with the Kremlin to interfere in the election.
“I met with the [Department of Justice] concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release. Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me - and everyone!”
The Post’s report added that the change in direction follows “a series of conversations” between Emmet Flood, a member of the White House legal team, and senior law enforcement and intelligence officials. Concerned outreach from British officials also reportedly had an effect.
What makes all of this surprising, however, is the fact that Trump spent the last several days taking the opposite position, including in an interview just last night.
It’s a bizarre timeline of events:
On Monday, the president stunned the intelligence community by announcing plans to declassify sensitive materials from an ongoing federal investigation, despite the advice of national security officials.
On Tuesday, Trump said the revelations from the documents would prove that “really bad things were happening” at the FBI.
On Wednesday, the president conceded he hadn’t actually read the documents he intended to declassify, but he was nevertheless certain they’d help his political agenda.
On Thursday, Trump said U.S. allies had called him to express concerns about the declassification gambit, though he added that the classified information “will all come out” anyway.
And on Friday, the Republican announced a rather dramatic change in direction.
In fairness, it doesn’t sound as if Trump has given up on declassification altogether, but it’s nevertheless clear the White House isn’t ending the week where it started the week.
It’s equally clear that the president hadn’t thought this through.