WASHINGTON (CNN) — A political clobbering, bickering aides and now a public grenade launched across the White House by the first lady have placed President Donald Trump in a position he loathes: backed into a corner.
A week after standing in the East Room and declaring victory in the midterm elections, the President is isolated and growing more furious by the day. He’s openly speculating about replacing more members of his Cabinet, though so far has stopped short of executing the dismissals, leaving those aides in a career purgatory.
At an election night party at the White House, Trump left attendees guessing when he was spotted in a huddle with a potential replacement for his chief of staff, John Kelly, who himself stood awkwardly in a corner.
“Yes, he’s pissed — at damn near everyone,” a White House official said, noting the mood in the Oval Office is darker than normal this week. After nearly a month straight of campaigning before adoring crowds, the applause has gone silent and the President has retreated. The tempest has led to rampant speculation inside the building about the fates of other senior staffers, some of whom are beginning to plan their exits.
Friends of the President describe him as embittered by the election losses and troubled by the Mueller investigation. He met Monday with his lawyers to go over a series of written questions from the special counsel. Some of his longtime confidants are worried for his health, believing he’s gained weight and looks unwell.
The timing for the President’s fury couldn’t be worse, considering the White House is heading into uncharted territory with Democrats assuming control of the House. Trump has told some advisers he’s itching for the fight, believing it can provide him a political foil. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller is inching closer to issuing his report on the Russia investigation.
“He knows it’s winding up. So, it’s unsettling,” another person close to the President said.
It was a 24-word statement from the East Wing, where the first lady and her small staff work, about a presidential adviser that revealed how the dysfunction inside the White House is deeper and more tangled than previously known.
“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” a spokeswoman for Melania Trump said Tuesday afternoon.
Yet a day after that extraordinarily public rebuke, Mira Ricardel reported to work in the suite of offices in the National Security Council. After Ricardel was not even given the dignity of being named her in the statement — which referred to her only as “she” — everyone in the West Wing was saying her name on Wednesday as anxiety intensified about what this latest feud would mean for the President’s mood. Later Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement confirming Ricardel will leave her White House position, while noting that Ricardel will “transition to a new role within the Administration.”
In the last week, the President’s frayed and fraught relationships have been laid bare for all to see: He’s furious at Kelly for a Paris trip that ended in a public relations debacle. He’s blaming his political advisers for losing the winning narrative of the midterms. And he was caught off guard by his wife’s shot across the bow at one of the top advisers in the West Wing — a sign that their private conversations clearly aren’t functional.
After his wife ordered the astounding statement be released Tuesday afternoon, Trump was furious that what had been an internal staffing matter was now thrust into public view, leaving him to look like a bossed-around husband. The President’s mood was dark and intense after what officials said was a blindsiding by aides who do not report to him.
If the sudden public interest in Ricardel, a behind-the-scenes operator, came as a surprise to the President, however, the underlying issues between her and the first lady’s office were not new.
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