In a White House known for chaos, the process of developing the U.S. response to the Syrian government’s alleged latest chemical attack was proceeding with uncharacteristic deliberation, including several national security briefings for President #Trump.
But then Wednesday morning, Trump upended it all with a tweet — warning Russia, the Syrian government’s backer, to “get ready” because American missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ ”
White House advisers were surprised by the missive and found it “alarming” and “distracting,” in the words of one senior official. They quickly regrouped and, together with Pentagon brass, continued readying Syria options for Trump as if nothing had happened.
On Thursday, Trump left further questions. In a tweet, he added doubt to suggestions that military action in Syria was on a fast track.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” he wrote in a tweet that also noted U.S.-led battlefield successes against the Islamic State.
The Twitter disruptions were emblematic of a president operating on a tornado of impulses — and with no clear strategy — as he faces some of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, including Syria, trade policy and the Russian interference probe that threatens to overwhelm his administration.
“It’s just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them,” said one West Wing aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen’s office. Oh, my God, we’re going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking.”
The president has been particularly livid in the wake of Monday’s FBI raids on the home, office and hotel room of Cohen, his longtime personal attorney. In the days after, he has seriously contemplated a shake-up at the Justice Department in the hopes of curbing the expanding probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose referral led to the Cohen raids. Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the probe, several people familiar with Trump’s private comments said.
By Trump’s admission Wednesday on Twitter, Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice has consumed “tremendous time and focus.” And in denying allegations of wrongdoing, the president seemed to equivocate in a parenthetical aside: “No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back),” he wrote.
On trade, meanwhile, the president is grappling with the potential economic fallout of his threatened tariffs, especially within the agriculture sector, which could harm some of the rural states that carried him to electoral victory — all against the backdrop of his ongoing effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement more favorably for the United States.