President Donald Trump seemed on the verge of making more personnel changes Sunday, following a whirlwind three weeks in which he has parted ways with his chief economic adviser, his chief national security adviser, his secretary of state, his communications director, his personal aide and two of his lawyers – including one who lasted six days.
At his coastal resort here, Trump told associates he wants to oust Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax, talked to the president Saturday and then said on television Sunday that Shulkin is “likely to depart the Cabinet very soon.”
Ruddy, who speaks to Trump frequently, said on ABC News’ “This Week” that the president thinks the White House is operating “like a smooth machine” and that he has been “perplexed” by news reports of chaos.
“He did say that he’s expecting to make one or two major changes to his government very soon,” Ruddy said.
Trump also said he wants to keep two other senior administration officials who have been in his crosshairs in recent weeks: his chief of staff, John Kelly, and his housing secretary, Ben Carson.
Ruddy offered the same assessment of Kelly and Carson on ABC.
Shulkin, 58, a physician and former hospital executive who won unanimous confirmation by the Senate last year, had been a favorite of Trump’s, racking up legislative victories and fast changes at an agency the president railed against on the campaign trail.
But months of turmoil in the department’s senior ranks have roiled the second-largest federal bureaucracy, which employs 360,000 people. Shulkin has said publicly that high-level political appointees installed by the White House are scheming to oust him over personality and policy differences.
Shulkin has been on the verge of leaving for several weeks, but White House officials have been unable to find a replacement. And Trump – who detests firing people even though he became famous for a “you’re fired” catchphrase – has griped but done nothing to oust Shulkin.
Ruddy’s comments came just before Joseph diGenova, a lawyer Trump had liked on Fox News Channel, backed away from representing the president. On Monday, it was announced that the aggressive lawyer would deal with a special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, and he helped precipitate the ouster of John Dowd, another lawyer, on Thursday. Now, both lawyers are out – leaving Trump with a diminished team and aides frantically searching for new lawyers.
Trump defiantly said he didn’t need any more lawyers and crowed about his poll numbers, confidants said.
“He is creating his own reality,” said one person who spoke to him Friday afternoon.
While in Florida, Trump also continued to attack Rex Tillerson, saying in conversations with associates that the recently fired secretary of state did not have the “brains or energy” for the job. Trump seems to still be infuriated by Tillerson, said a person who spoke with the president.
Senior administration officials say Trump has bashed Tillerson since firing him on Twitter. Among other things, Trump is upset about reports that Tillerson had called him a “moron.”
Trump also told one friend that he was glad H.R. McMaster, his recently ousted national security adviser, was no longer in the administration, and that he now has a team he thinks will implement his agenda.
He closely watched news coverage of a spending bill that many conservatives disliked, including a scathing segment on “Judge Jeanine,” a Fox News Channel program he likes. Jeanine Pirro, the fiery host, is an occasional White House visitor.
Even after signing the $1.3 trillion spending bill, Trump complained that Republicans had trapped him into a bad situation while saying he believed the backlash would be short-lived. Several aides said the criticism of the legislation made the president more determined to secure money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · John Wagner, Josh Dawsey