Dec. 7, 2018 marks the 686th day that Donald Trump has been president of the United States. It may also prove to be one of the most chaotic for a White House that’s been marked by turmoil.
As Washington DC woke up, reports swirled that John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, is leaving soon. Kelly’s departure has been long-rumored. Kelly and Trump have stopped speaking to each other, CNN reported, and the former Marine Corps general could resign “within days.”
“I don’t expect him to be here very long,” one White House staffer confirmed to Quartz today (Dec. 7 ). “There’s a lot more going on” behind the scenes that hasn’t been reported, the staffer added, but refused to elaborate.
Kelly’s departure would almost certainly mean the departure of Kirstjen Nielsen, who became the face of the administration’s brutal immigration policy as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary. She has been at odds with Trump for months. If Nielsen—Kelly’s chief of staff when he briefly headed DHS—departs it will leave the $50 billion-budget agency responsible for protecting the US virtually rudderless because there are so many open senior positions. Nielsen’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions today.
The president began his morning with a series of increasingly panicked-sounding tweets about the special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump associates, centered on possible ties to Russian interests and their influence on the 2016 US presidential campaign. Mueller is expected this afternoon to file sentencing recommendations for two figures who once occupied central positions in Trump’s world orbit: former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign director Paul Manafort. Mueller’s memo on former national security adviser Michael Flynn indicated Flynn has offered information that has helped the investigation in significant ways.
The big question for Mueller-watchers is what today’s sentencing documents reveal about the status of the probe. One recent report said the probe is “tying up loose ends,” with plans to finish up in the next month or two. However, Mueller has often used court documents to reveal information about the probe to the public. While the Flynn sentencing memo was tantalizingly redacted, today’s documents are an opportunity to put more details about the president’s actions on the public record.
The Trump administration still has no real strategy designed to respond to the Mueller investigation, the Atlantic wrote earlier this week, aside from the president’s tweets and his attorney Rudy Giuliani planning to resist if Trump is subpoenaed. That would be consistent with the way that this White House has responded to most other crises, as Trump applies the management style that he used as the private owner of a real-estate business to running the executive branch.
Trump disputed the Atlantic report with a tweet this morning. Are things really as chaotic as they appear, Quartz asked the White House? “At this point I’m doing what I’m doing, and that’s not my business,” the staffer said.
Kelly’s departure and the threat of what else the Mueller sentencing recommendations could say about the Trump administration could spook already-skittish US stock markets. The ongoing China-US trade dispute, and particularly the US’s detention of a top executive from Huawei, the Chinese tech company, have mostly destroyed the gains the markets made since the US enacted a new corporate tax bill.
Trump, meanwhile, is scheduled to fly out of Washington this morning, to deliver remarks at a Kansas City, Missouri conference on “safe neighborhoods.”
On his way out of town, however, he dropped two big pieces of news. He intends to nominate William Barr, a former George H.W. Bush attorney general, to replace attorney general Jeff Sessions, and Heather Nauert, a Fox News broadcaster-turned State Department spokesman, to be the new US ambassador to the UN.
Meanwhile, one of Trump’s biggest supporters, Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson, has turned on him. The president is “not capable,” and has not kept his promises, Carlson tells Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche (Carlson has a Swiss great-grandfather, briefly went to school in Switzerland, and sent one of his children there, hence the magazine’s interest.)
His chief promises were that he would build the wall, de-fund Planned Parenthood, and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn’t done any of those things. There are a lot of reasons for that, but since I finished writing the book, I’ve come to believe that Trump’s role is not as a conventional president who promises to get certain things achieved to the Congress and then does. I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.
The support of Fox News commentators—and the opinionated pundits’ willingness to spread the White House’s often factually incorrect point of view about everything from taxes to immigration—has been crucial
Carlson’s criticism pulls out a key leg of support, at a time when the Trump administration keenly needs it.