“Get over it,” Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney blurted out at a White House press briefing on Thursday. “There’s always going to be political influence in foreign policy.” With these words, he all but confirmed what the White House has spent weeks attempting to deny—that military aid to Ukraine was withheld to put pressure on that country to meddle in U.S. elections. When Mulvaney realized what a disastrous blooper this was, he tried to walk it back by issuing a statement claiming that he didn’t say what he said. But even in D.C., even in these crazy times, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
Mulvaney was apparently unprepared to answer questions on the Ukraine debacle, since he was trotted out to announce that Trump planned to hold the next G7 conference at his Miami resort, Trump National Doral. It was “by far and away, far and away, the best physical facility for this meeting.... It’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event,” Mulvaney intoned, mustering the same enthusiasm Sean Spicer once summoned when he claimed that Trump’s inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. (Will we see Mulvaney on Dancing with the Stars sometime soon?)
But wait, what’s this? In a rare reversal, last night the president tweeted: “Based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020. We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately. Thank you!”
Was this sudden shift an indication that the president is beginning to crack under the pressure? (Nancy Pelosi certainly thinks so, but more on that in a minute.) The White House is currently dealing with two crises—there are the growing calls for impeachment, or at least a serious impeachment inquiry, as details of the Ukrainian quid pro quo scandal continue to unfold. Last week a number of diplomats defied the administration and testified to the House Committee, all of them more or less confirming the whistleblower’s allegations. And then there is the nightmare that has resulted from Trump’s precipitous decision to pull troops from Northern Syria, abandon our allies the Kurds, and trigger a Turkish offensive, a move that even top Republicans hate. On Friday, Senate majority leader and major Trump apologist Mitch McConnell penned a Washington Post op-ed that began: “Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake.” (Ever the profile in courage, McConnell excoriated Obama in this piece numerous times, but never mentioned the architect of the current disaster by name.)
Trump characterized the situation in Syria with his usual bizarre bravado. On Thursday, the White House released the text of a letter that the president wrote to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that seemed like it might have come from The Onion. It read in part: “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool. I will call you later.” Erdoğan reportedly tossed this missive in the trash.
On Wednesday Trump sent VP Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to meet with Erdoğan. The pair spent nine hours in Turkey and emerged with a deal they first called a cease-fire, and then a five-day “pause.” But according to CNN, a senior U.S. official said, “‘This is essentially the U.S. validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population.... This is what Turkey wanted and what POTUS green lighted.’”
As the week wore on, Trump’s assessment of the situation included: “Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine. They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.” Along with this topographical description, he discussed his own role: “It was unconventional, what I did. I said, ‘They’re going to have to fight a little while.’ Sometimes you have to let them fight a little while. Then people find out how tough the fighting is.... It’s like two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight, and then you pull them apart. But…it was pretty vicious, and the Kurds, who are our friends, and Turkey’s our friend, but they fought. It was tougher, I mean, it was nasty.”
And speaking of nasty: On Thursday, the president held a meeting with leading Democrats so contentious that Chuck Schumer and Pelosi stormed out, the latter not before she asked Trump, “Do all roads lead to Putin?” Later in the day, she suggested we “pray for his health, because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.”
In other news, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is hearing his exit music a little earlier than expected. Widely rumored to be stepping down after Christmas, he now says he is outta there next week. His office also announced that he will not be cooperating with a congressional subpoena seeking records related to his role in Ukraine. In another turn of the screw, the Washington Post reports that George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, told House investigators he was instructed to “‘lay low’…and defer to Volker, Sondland, and Perry”—on matters related to Ukraine. And—Rudy alert!—according to CNN, Kent also told investigators that Giuliani asked the State Department and the White House to grant a visa to a certain former Ukrainian official whom Joe Biden had pushed to have removed when he was vice president.
Lastly, even top military brass seems to be turning against their commander-in-chief. On Thursday, Admiral William McRaven, a former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, wrote an editorial in the Times entitled “Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President.” The article concluded, “If this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office—Republican, Democrat, or independent—the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.” And at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner, an event that functions as a good-natured roast of political figures, retired four-star Marine general and former defense secretary James Mattis proved he was up to the task. He said that when people asked him if he was bothered that Trump called him “overrated,” he replied, “Of course not. I have earned my spurs on the battlefield. Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue