white house drama
July 13, 2020

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has shared with several people his surefire way to catch suspected leakers: give them specific information and see if it later shows up in print.

Multiple officials told Axios that Meadows has been "unusually vocal" about his technique, yet his tactic has netted only one person for a minor leak. President Trump has been adamant about how important it is to him that leakers get caught, and he was clear in letting Meadows, his fourth chief of staff, know that one of his duties is hunting down the perpetrators.

Trump is especially enraged by the leak that during anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests in Washington, D.C., he was rushed into a bunker, Axios says. A person close to Meadows told Axios he is "focused on national security leaks and could care less about the palace intrigue stories."

His predecessor, Mick Mulvaney, was always trying to find leakers, a former White House official said. He requested that the White House IT department take a close look at phone records and see if any officials were calling reporters. Mulvaney already had a tense relationship with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Axios reports, and when he saw that Cipollone had called journalists, he raced to tell Trump about his suspicions. A former official said Trump — who had asked Cipollone to speak with the media — saw no reason to believe Cipollone was guilty of leaking, and dismissed the information.

Presidential historian Chris Whipple told Axios this is a level of paranoia "that we never even saw in the Nixon White House." To prevent leaks, staffers need to feel as though their "voices are heard" and they have "a stake in the process and there's some integrity," Whipple said. A good chief of staff "knows that the best way to prevent damaging leaks is to stop doing illegal, stupid stuff." Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

The White House is expected to soon announce it will withdraw the nomination of Jeff Byard, President Trump's choice to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, CNN reports.

Byard's nomination was announced seven months ago, and several lawmakers recently said issues came up during his background check. Trump has now settled on nominating Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, people with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

In a letter obtained by the network, Byard wrote to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week, letting him know that he wanted his nomination withdrawn as it "would be best for me to focus entirely on pressing issues related to my current role as the associate administrator for response and recovery." Catherine Garcia

May 22, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton are generally aligned when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, but that doesn't mean they get along.

Four sources familiar with their relationship told CNN that their stark personality differences and professional styles have caused a rift between the two, which has also been exacerbated by President Trump's "erratic behavior and lack of foreign policy experience." Pompeo, the State Department, and the National Security Council have all dismissed the claims.

But CNN's sources said that Pompeo is not a fan of Bolton's "calculating methods." Bolton often circumvents Pompeo to interact directly with the president, the CIA, and Congress. For example, during a debate over North Korea, Bolton reportedly left Pompeo off messages he sent to the CIA, which included a list of questions he wanted answered, a source within the intelligence community said. Pompeo, who has led negotiations with North Korea, was reportedly not pleased with being left in the dark. Bolton also reportedly has his deputy, Allison Hooker, call up the CIA ahead of meetings with Trump, allowing him to gather intel and keep that information to himself.

Pompeo is not alone when it comes to disapproving of Bolton's workplace behavior. One of CNN's sources, who describes themselves as Bolton's friend, said the national security adviser is "overreaching" and not running the NSC properly. "There is a real feeling outside of the national security council, across the board, that John has his own agenda and is undercutting the president's policies," another source close to the White House said.

Trump, too, reportedly has some issues with Bolton, though that has less to do with the way Bolton operates and more with how he's perceived. The president apparently gets annoyed by Bolton's public profile, especially when he's giving a speech or tweeting because it takes attention away from him. Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

May 7, 2019

A year after parting ways with the White House, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff — a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump and a contractor for President Trump's inaugural committee — is speaking out about her departure, stressing that she wasn't fired and has the emails to prove it.

"Was I fired? No," she told The New York Times on Monday. "Did I personally receive $26 million or $1.6 million? No. Was I thrown under the bus? Yes." Winston Wolkoff and Melania Trump knew each other in New York, and she was asked to help plan inaugural events after Trump's surprise victory. The inaugural committee, led by financier Thomas Barrack Jr., brought in a record $107 million in donations.

In February 2018, the inaugural committee filed a financial disclosure statement showing that Winston Wolkoff's company WIS Media Partners was paid $26 million. At the time, Winston Wolkoff had an employment arrangement with the White House known as a "gratuitous service agreement," and she received a letter last Feb. 20 from Stefan Passantino, deputy White House counsel, telling her all such contracts were being terminated, she said. Winston Wolkoff told the Times that Passantino let her known "you didn't do anything wrong," and this had nothing to do with the inaugural spending.

The Times reviewed a letter from Melania Trump sent that same day, which told Winston Wolkoff this was "not personal." What's bothered Winston Wolkoff is the way the White House announced her departure, she said. The first lady's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said they "severed" ties, and "that was not fair or accurate," Winston Wolkoff told the Times; she says it also wasn't right for White House staffers to tell media outlets she was fired due to the inaugural committee's spending. Read more about what Winston Wolkoff says she was told behind the scenes and how she is working with prosecutors investigating the inaugural committee at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

January 30, 2019

President Trump was mad about U.S. intelligence chiefs contradicting him Tuesday during testimony on Capitol Hill, but he reserved most of his ire for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, two people with knowledge of his blowup told CNN.

His anger was delayed because he didn't watch the testimony live on Tuesday, and was catching up on the highlights Wednesday morning, CNN reports. Coats said a lot of things at odds with previous statements by Trump — he said the Islamic State has not been defeated, Iran isn't currently pursuing nuclear weapons, and North Korea was unlikely to "completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities."

Unable to contain his rage for long, Trump went off on Twitter, and in a message complete with a misspelling, suggested "Intelligence should go back to school!" In an interview last summer, Coats was taken aback when told the White House was planning on inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington; laughing, he said, "That is going to be special." Trump got over that comment, and it sounds like he'll get over this as well — an official told CNN he does not plan on firing Coats. Catherine Garcia

January 14, 2019

During a meeting attended by top Democratic and Republican leaders, President Trump jumped at the opportunity to take a swipe at his acting chief of staff and the way he is handling the government shutdown, two people with knowledge of the matter told Axios.

Things got awkward at the end of a Jan. 4 meeting held in the White House Situation Room, attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). After Vice President Mike Pence asked Democrats for $2.5 billion for the wall Trump promised would be built along the southern border, Trump demanded $5.7 billion, Axios reports. Mulvaney suggested they try to settle on a number somewhere in the middle, and that irked Trump.

One person in the room told Axios the president told Mulvaney, "You just f--ked it all up, Mick." It was "kind of weird," the person added. Another meeting attendee said Trump was annoyed by Mulvaney's negotiating tactics, adding, "Mick was not reading the room." A White House official who was present during the incident told Axios the whole thing has been "exaggerated," and "the president and Mulvaney joked about it afterwards." Catherine Garcia

October 29, 2018

As soon as the midterm elections are over next month, don't be surprised if several of President Trump's Cabinet officials leave the administration, either by choice or by force, people inside and close to the White House told Politico.

Trump already has the highest turnover rate in recent history, with several Cabinet officials fired, like former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The most likely to leave are Defense Secretary James Mattis, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, administration sources and White House advisers said. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced last month she is leaving at the end of the year, one of the rare Cabinet members to not get the boot, but there is no replacement in line.

Several people told Politico they believe that Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who enraged Trump last year when he recused himself from the Russia investigation, which led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller — will be the first one fired after the midterms, and it could happen via tweet. One Republican close to the White House said Trump is "looking to get better performers — all of these decisions are being made in the context of the re-election campaign. Trump wants the strongest possible A-team going into 2020." Catherine Garcia

July 26, 2018

CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins was banned from attending an event in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, after she asked President Trump questions about his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Collins was the pool reporter, meaning she represented all of the networks during a brief photo opportunity in the Oval Office. Trump was there with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and not knowing if there would be an opportunity to ask Trump questions later in the day, Collins inquired about Putin not coming to Washington this fall and if he felt Cohen betrayed him by secretly taping at least one of their conversations. Trump didn't answer.

The White House then announced that the press was invited to the Rose Garden, where Trump and Juncker would speak, but Collins was told by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the new deputy chief of staff for communications, that she was not invited. Collins told CNN's Brian Stelter they said the questions she asked were "inappropriate for that venue," and that she had been shouting. Collins said she told them she was being banned because "you don't like the questions I asked," and they responded that her network wasn't banned, "but you are not invited to the Rose Garden today."

Sanders confirmed this, saying in a statement that Collins "shouted questions and refused to leave despite repeatedly being asked to do so. To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the presidency and guests at the White House." Other reporters and networks, including Shine's former employer, Fox News, are standing behind Collins, who said she was shocked by what happened. "I'm from Alabama, I'm not rude," she told Stelter. "I believe you should always be polite when you ask a question. I totally believe that." Catherine Garcia

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