In private, President Trump spent much of the past week brooding, as he often does. He has been anxious about the Russia investigation’s widening fallout, with his former campaign chairman standing trial. And he has fretted that he is failing to accrue enough political credit for what he claims as triumphs.
At rare moments of introspection for the famously self-centered president, Trump has also expressed to confidants lingering unease about how some in his orbit — including his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. — are ensnared in the Russia probe, in his assessment simply because of their connection to him.
Yet in public, Trump is a man roaring. The president, more than ever, is channeling his internal frustration and fear into a ravenous maw of grievance and invective. He is churning out false statements with greater frequency and attacking his perceived enemies with intensifying fury. A fresh broadside came on Twitter at 11:37 p.m. Friday, mocking basketball superstar LeBron James and calling CNN’s Don Lemon “the dumbest man on television.”
This is the new, uneasy reality for Trump at an especially precarious moment of his presidency, with the Republican Party struggling to keep control of Congress, where a Democratic takeover brings with it the specter of impeachment, and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s grip seeming to tighten on the president and his circle.
Trump, who has decamped to his New Jersey golf estate for an 11-day working vacation, is at a critical juncture in the Russia investigation as he decides in coming days whether to sit for an interview with Mueller or defy investigators and risk being issued a subpoena.
“He’s more definitive than ever: This investigation should end now, and Mueller should put out what he has,” said Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. “He doesn’t think they have anything, and he wants the country to move on.”
This portrait of Trump behind the scenes is based on interviews with 14 administration officials, presidential friends and outside advisers to the White House, many of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity to share candid assessments.
Trump appeared to stand in conflict with his own government when he blasted the “Russian hoax” just hours after his national security team gathered at the White House on Thursday in a rare show of force to warn that Russia is yet again trying to interfere in U.S. elections. But a White House spokesman said Trump instructed them to hold the news conference and was adamant that they explain what the administration is doing to safeguard the midterm elections.
The frequency of the president’s mistruths has picked up, as well. The Washington Post Fact Checker found last week that Trump has now made 4,229 false or misleading claims so far in his presidency — an average of nearly 7.6 such claims per day, and an increase of 978 in just two months.