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  1. The Donald J. Trump administration will be remembered as among the
  2.  
  3. most tumultuous in American history.  Future historians will record the
  4.  
  5. volatility of the president`s decision-making as well as the internal
  6.  
  7. struggles of a government forced to grapple with it.  They will write that
  8.  
  9. his advisers came to find him unfit for the job.  He couldn`t focus on
  10.  
  11. governing and he was prone to abuses of power from ill-conceived schemes to
  12.  
  13. punish his political rivals to propensity for undermining vital American
  14.  
  15. institutions.
  16.  
  17.  
  18.  
  19. The president still lacks the guiding principles needed to govern our
  20.  
  21. nation and fails to display the rudimentary qualities of leadership we
  22.  
  23. should expect of any commander in chief.  In “The Times” op-ed, I wrote of
  24.  
  25. a quiet resistance of Trump appointees at the highest levels trying to
  26.  
  27. manage his rash impulses.  We wanted the administration to succeed and
  28.  
  29. supported significant components of the president`s agenda.  But we were
  30.  
  31. alarmed by his unstable behavior in public and in private.
  32.  
  33.  
  34.  
  35. Those who tried to steer him away from self-destructive impulses were not
  36.  
  37. the so-called deep state, I wrote, but the steady state.  This idea was
  38.  
  39. assailed by the president.  But the notion his team is working to protect
  40.  
  41. him from himself has since become one of the defining narratives of the
  42.  
  43. Trump administration.  Indeed, it was a hallmark takeaway from special
  44.  
  45. counsel Robert Mueller`s report on the investigation into Russian
  46.  
  47. interference in the 2016 presidential election.
  48.  
  49.  
  50.  
  51. The president`s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly
  52.  
  53. unsuccessful, Mueller wrote, but that is largely because the persons
  54.  
  55. surrounding the president declined to carry out orders or recede to his
  56.  
  57. requests, close quote.
  58.  
  59.  
  60.  
  61. This included the president`s demand that White House counsel Don McGahn
  62.  
  63. fired the special counsel, a request McGahn rebuffed for fear it would
  64.  
  65. trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday night massacre and lead to
  66.  
  67. Donald Trump`s impeachment.  It probably would have.
  68.  
  69.  
  70.  
  71. President Trump should not be shocked that wary aides and cabinet members
  72.  
  73. saved his presidency.  My colleagues have done so many times.  He should be
  74.  
  75. worried.  We all should be worried that these reasonable professionals are
  76.  
  77. vanishing.
  78.  
  79.  
  80.  
  81. The president is chafed by those who dared to challenge him.  He`s targeted
  82.  
  83. and removed many of these officials.  From Secretary of State Rex
  84.  
  85. Tillerson, to Chief of Staff John Kelly, one by one.  Others have grown
  86.  
  87. tired of the charade and left of their own accord.
  88.  
  89.  
  90.  
  91. With every dismissal and departure of a level-headed senior leader, the
  92.  
  93. risks to the country grow and the president is validated by a shrinking
  94.  
  95. cadre of advisors who abet or encourage his bad behavior.  We are already
  96.  
  97. seeing the consequences.  Through a toxic combination of amorality and
  98.  
  99. indifference, the president has failed to rise to the occasion in
  100.  
  101. fulfilling his duties.  In these pages, I will underscore what Americans
  102.  
  103. should actually be concerned about when it comes to Trump and his
  104.  
  105. administration.
  106.  
  107.  
  108. To be clear, there is no seditious plot inside the administration to
  109.  
  110. undercut the president.  The steady state is not code for a coordinated
  111.  
  112. scheme to sabotage his policies or worse, oust him from office.  I use
  113.  
  114. “resistance” in quotes because it`s neither the right`s fear of a deep
  115.  
  116. state gone rogue, or the left`s conception of an active subversion
  117.  
  118. campaign.
  119.  
  120.  
  121.  
  122. Trump`s critics who are rooting for an actual resistance have let their
  123.  
  124. imaginations run wild with the idea of public servants frustrating the
  125.  
  126. fears of government to bring down Trump.  If this kind of conspiracy
  127.  
  128. exists, it`s news to me and it would be disturbing.  Public service is a
  129.  
  130. public trust.  Any government employee with such a nefarious end goal
  131.  
  132. should be condemned.  Instead, the early steady state formed to keep the
  133.  
  134. wheels from coming off the White House wagon.  When presidential appointees
  135.  
  136. started conferring about their shared concerns with the nation`s chief`s
  137.  
  138. executive, it was not in the dimly lit smoke filled back rooms of
  139.  
  140. Washington.  It was done informally, in weekly phone calls around the
  141.  
  142. margins of meetings.
  143.  
  144.  
  145.  
  146. People who compared notes in the workday and in the normal course of
  147.  
  148. business realized that the administration`s problems were more than
  149.  
  150. fleeting.  They were systemic, they emanated from the top.  Two traits are
  151.  
  152. illustrative of what brought the steady state together: the president`s
  153.  
  154. inattentiveness and his impulsiveness.  Both will be documented in this
  155.  
  156. book.
  157.  
  158.  
  159.  
  160. But coming to terms with these characters for the first time had a powerful
  161.  
  162. impact on the people serving in the administration.  Take for instance the
  163.  
  164. process of briefing the president of the United States, which is an
  165.  
  166. experience that no description can fully capture.  In an administration,
  167.  
  168. advisers – in any administration, advisers would rightfully want to be
  169.  
  170. prepared for such a moment.
  171.  
  172.  
  173.  
  174. This is the most powerful person on earth that we`re talking about.  But
  175.  
  176. before a conversation with him, you`d want to make sure you`ve got your
  177.  
  178. main points lined up in a crisp agenda you`re about to present.  You`re
  179.  
  180. about to discuss life and death matters with the leader of the free world,
  181.  
  182. a matter of utmost sobriety and purpose.
  183.  
  184.  
  185.  
  186. The process does not unfold that way in the Trump administration.
  187.  
  188. Briefings with Donald Trump are of an entirely different nature.  Early on,
  189.  
  190. briefers were told not to send lengthy documents, Trump wouldn`t read them.
  191.  
  192. Nor should they bring summaries to the Oval Office.  If they must bring
  193.  
  194. paper, then PowerPoint was preferred because he`s a visual learner.  OK,
  195.  
  196. that`s fine, many thought of themselves, leaders like to absorb information
  197.  
  198. in different ways.
  199.  
  200.  
  201.  
  202. Then officials were told that PowerPoint decks needed to be slimmed down.
  203.  
  204. The president couldn`t digest too many slides.  He needed more images to
  205.  
  206. keep his interest, and fewer words.
  207.  
  208.  
  209.  
  210. Then they were told to cut back the overall message, on complicated issues
  211.  
  212. such as military readiness to the federal budget, to just three main
  213.  
  214. points.  Eh, that was still too much.  Soon, West Wing aides were
  215.  
  216. exchanging best practices for success in the oval office.
  217.  
  218.  
  219.  
  220. The most salient advice, forget the three points.  Come in with one main
  221.  
  222. point and repeat it over and over again, even if the president inevitably
  223.  
  224. goes off on tangents, repeat until he gets it.  Just keep steering the
  225.  
  226. subject back to it.  One point, just that one point, because you cannot
  227.  
  228. focus the commander in chief`s attention on more than one gosh darn thing
  229.  
  230. over the course of a meeting, OK?
  231.  
  232.  
  233.  
  234. Some officials refused to believe this is how it worked.  Are you serious,
  235.  
  236. they asked, quizzing others who briefed the president?  How could they dumb
  237.  
  238. down their work to this level?  They were facilitating presidential
  239.  
  240. decisions on major issues, not debates about where to go out for dinner.
  241.  
  242.  
  243.  
  244. I saw a number of appointees as they dismissed the advice of the wizened
  245.  
  246. hands and went in to see President Trump, prepared for robust policy
  247.  
  248. discussion on momentous national topics, and a peppery give-and-take.
  249.  
  250. Those people invariably paid the price.
  251.  
  252.  
  253.  
  254. What the “F” is this, the president would shout, looking at a document one
  255.  
  256. of them handed him?  These are just words, a bunch of words, it doesn`t
  257.  
  258. mean anything.
  259.  
  260.  
  261.  
  262. Sometimes he would throw the papers back on the table.  He definitely
  263.  
  264. wouldn`t read them.
  265.  
  266.  
  267.  
  268. One of the hardest culture shifts took place in the National Security
  269.  
  270. Council.  NSC staff were accustomed to producing long winded classified
  271.  
  272. memos, but if the aim was to educate this new commander-in-chief, they
  273.  
  274. couldn`t submit a 50-page report entitled something like integrated
  275.  
  276. national strategy for Indo-Pacific Partnership and Defense and expect him
  277.  
  278. to read it and then discuss it.  That would be like speaking Aramaic to
  279.  
  280. Trump through a pillow.  Even if he tried very hard to pay attention, which
  281.  
  282. he didn`t, he wouldn`t be able to understand what the hell he was hearing.
  283.  
  284.  
  285.  
  286. It took a lot of trial and error for West Wing stands to realize there
  287.  
  288. needed to be a change in the White House briefing process.  Until that
  289.  
  290. happened, officials walk out of briefings frustrated.  Quote, he is the
  291.  
  292. most distracted person I have ever met, one of the president`s security
  293.  
  294. lieutenant confessed.  Quote, he has no F-ing clue what we are talking
  295.  
  296. about.
  297.  
  298.  
  299.  
  300. More changes were ordered to cater to Trump`s peculiarities.  Documents
  301.  
  302. were dramatically downsized and position papers became sound bites.  As a
  303.  
  304. result, complex proposals were reduced to a single page or ideally a
  305.  
  306. paragraph, and translated into Trump`s winners and losers tone.
  307.  
  308.  
  309.  
  310. Others discovered if they walked into the Oval Office with a simple graphic
  311.  
  312. Trump liked it would more than do the trick.  We might hear about it for
  313.  
  314. days in fact.  He would hold onto the picture waving it around in meetings.
  315.  
  316. Did you see this?  You can believe this?  This is beautifully, something
  317.  
  318. truly special.
  319.  
  320.  
  321.  
  322. Dan, he might summon the White House`s social media guru who sits just
  323.  
  324. outside the Oval Office.  Dan, let`s tweet this out, OK?  Here`s what I
  325.  
  326. want to say.  That way the public would get to share his excitement, too.
  327.  
  328.  
  329.  
  330. One graphic that left Trump spellbound was intended to explain certain
  331.  
  332. government and industrial relationships.  The basic depiction of
  333.  
  334. interlocked gears likely pulled from clip art showed how different levels
  335.  
  336. of the government bureaucracy depended on parts of the private sector.  The
  337.  
  338. president was so mesmerized he showed it off to Oval Office visitors for no
  339.  
  340. apparent reason, leaving us and them scratching our heads.
  341.  
  342.  
  343.  
  344. Another time, he became enamored with a parody poster in the style of the
  345.  
  346. “Game of Thrones” with the words “sanctions are coming” overlaid on the
  347.  
  348. photo of the president.  This was meant to be a teaser for forthcoming Iran
  349.  
  350. sanctions.  Trump was elated and tweeted the image out to his followers at
  351.  
  352. once, resulting in a cycle of memes mocking the graphic.
  353.  
  354.  
  355.  
  356. Seeing this type of behavior was both educating and jarring to the
  357.  
  358. burgeoning steady state.  It was a visceral lesson we weren`t just
  359.  
  360. appointees of the president, we were glorified government baby-sitters.
  361.  
  362. The feeling of unease was cemented by having to deal with the president`s
  363.  
  364. penchant for making major decisions with little forethought or discussion.
  365.  
  366. These “five-alarm fire drills,” as I call them, seemed like a curse.  When
  367.  
  368. Trump wanted to do something, aides might only get a few hours notice from
  369.  
  370. him before he announced it.
  371.  
  372.  
  373.  
  374. They then launched a frenetic response effort, a race against the clock to
  375.  
  376. reshape his views before the tweet out.  This could up end entire workdays.
  377.  
  378. Over time, the last minute warnings actually came to be seen as a luxury.
  379.  
  380. It`s better to have a few hours or minutes for that matter to intervene
  381.  
  382. than have no opportunity at all to convince Trump to hit the brakes on some
  383.  
  384. whacky or destructive idea.  He`s less inclined today to preview his
  385.  
  386. decisions.
  387.  
  388.  
  389.  
  390. Here`s how it might play out in the early days of the administration.  The
  391.  
  392. president sees something on television, he doesn`t like it.  It makes him
  393.  
  394. think maybe I should fire the secretary of commerce or we should pull out
  395.  
  396. of that treaty, it`s really a terrible treaty after all.  He might tee up a
  397.  
  398. tweet, then he bounces it off the next aide he talks to who`s stunned to
  399.  
  400. discover the terrible idea is tip of brain for the president of the United
  401.  
  402. States and might be on the brink of becoming reality.
  403.  
  404.  
  405.  
  406. The aide finds the president disinterested in thinking through the
  407.  
  408. consequences.  We`re going to do this today, OK, tell Sean to get ready.
  409.  
  410. He wants Press Secretary Sean Spicer prepared to defend it to the death.  
  411.  
  412.  
  413.  
  414. Staff throw up the bat signal, calling a snap meeting or teleconference.
  415.  
  416. He`s about to do something, one warns the group, explaining what the
  417.  
  418. president is about to announce.  He can`t do this.  We`ll all look like
  419.  
  420. idiots and he`ll get murdered for it in the press, the other explains.
  421.  
  422. Yes, well, I`m telling you, he`s going to do it unless you get to it fast,
  423.  
  424. the first warns.  Can you cancel your afternoon?
  425.  
  426.  
  427.  
  428. Officials rush back to the White House.  The delicate Oval Office schedule
  429.  
  430. is shattered to make way for an unexpected intervention, and top agency
  431.  
  432. executives scrap meetings with foreign leaders, press conferences and
  433.  
  434. briefings to join the gathering.  The conversation with the president is
  435.  
  436. tense.  He wants to do what he wants to do.  Consequences be damned.
  437.  
  438.  
  439.  
  440. It isn`t beneath him to attack his own family members, too.  Jared, you
  441.  
  442. don`t know what you`re talking about, OK?  I mean, seriously, you don`t
  443.  
  444. know.
  445.  
  446.  
  447.  
  448. After some dire warnings, everyone will get subpoenaed.  This will cost you
  449.  
  450. dearly with working class voters.  This will put Americans in harm`s way.
  451.  
  452. He might show signs of reconsidering.
  453.  
  454.  
  455.  
  456. Refusing to admit error, the president insists he still wants to go with
  457.  
  458. his original plan, but he backs off temporarily or agrees to a less
  459.  
  460. dramatic measure, averting disaster for the moment.
  461.  
  462.  
  463.  
  464. These mini crises didn`t happen once or twice at the administration`s
  465.  
  466. outset.  They became the norm with after shocks that could be felt for
  467.  
  468. days.  Some aides were so worn down by the roller coaster of presidential
  469.  
  470. whims that they started encouraging him to hold more campaign rallies,
  471.  
  472. putting aside the fact it wasn`t campaign season.
  473.  
  474.  
  475.  
  476. The events had the dual benefit of giving Trump something fun to do and
  477.  
  478. also getting him out of town where he would hypothetically do less damage.
  479.  
  480. More public events were put on his schedule allowing frayed nerves back in
  481.  
  482. Washington the chance to recover.
  483.  
  484. Quote, I know that`s a question many of you are asking.  Why
  485.  
  486. didn`t anyone leave?  God knows it would have been easy.  We all have draft
  487.  
  488. resignation letters in our desks or on our laptops.
  489.  
  490.  
  491.  
  492. That`s the half teasing half true advice you get on day one in the Trump
  493.  
  494. administration or immediately following Senate confirmation.  Be sure to
  495.  
  496. write your resignation letter.  You may need it at a moments notice or
  497.  
  498. less.  Some of us did consider resigning on the spot in the aftermath of
  499.  
  500. the Charlottesville, Virginia, conflagration.
  501.  
  502.  
  503.  
  504. Quote, one journalist reported a cabinet member saying he would have
  505.  
  506. written a resignation letter, taken it to the president and shoved it up
  507.  
  508. his – the sentiment was shared but in the end no one angrily stormed out.
  509.  
  510. There was no protest resignation.
  511.  
  512.  
  513.  
  514. Why do people stay?  A close friend asked me at the time.  You should all
  515.  
  516. quit, he`s a mess.
  517.  
  518.  
  519.  
  520. That`s why I responded, because he`s a mess.  It was true for a lot of us.
  521.  
  522. We thought we could keep it together.  The answer feels more hollow than it
  523.  
  524. used to.  Maybe my friend was right.  Maybe that and the aftermath of
  525.  
  526. Charlottesville, maybe that was a lost moment when a rush to the exits
  527.  
  528. would have meant something.
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