Former Trump Staffer On 'NYT' Op-Ed
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump is now fighting a battle from within. A senior official in the Trump administration wrote an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times. It was published yesterday. And in that op-ed, the author claims that they, along with many other senior officials, are working from within to frustrate parts of the president's agenda and his, quote, "worst inclinations." This is part of what President Trump said about the op-ed last night at an event at the White House.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The failing New York Times has an anonymous editorial - can you believe it? - anonymous, meaning gutless - a gutless editorial. We're doing a great job.
MARTIN: The president later tweeted a single word in all caps followed by a question mark - TREASON?
Marc Lotter is a former special assistant to President Trump. He joins us now in our studios.
Thanks so much for coming in.
MARC LOTTER: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: According to this author, as we have just said, there is an internal resistance movement against the president of the United States. Were you aware of this when you were there?
LOTTER: Absolutely not. And it offends me that people would think that they, in their positions in serving the president, would find themselves above the will of the voters and the man who was elected to be president.
MARTIN: Although they are not arguing that he doesn't belong to be there - they're saying that he has been able to achieve some good things while he is there, in their opinion - tax cuts and cutting regulations, although it's happened despite him not because of him - because of his governing style. I mean, in particular, the author writes, quote, "meetings with the president veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants. His impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions."
Is that untrue?
LOTTER: That's not what I have seen in my interactions with the president. And once again, they are making judgments about the president of the United States, who was elected to lead this country. And I can tell you that the tax cuts, the deregulation and things like that would not have happened if it were not for President Trump. So they can think that they are above that. But what they are actually doing is undermining the legitimacy of the president of the United States. And it's cowardly for them to take this kind of a discussion outside and then yet continue to serve in that administration.
And I can tell you from someone who served there for most of the first year that the White House staff of all presidents, regardless of party - they're very close. The hours are long. The stress, the sacrifices you make for your family - to serve in these positions, you have to be able to trust the people that you are working with that you are all working toward the same goal, which would be the president's goal.
MARTIN: Although this is an administration that has been fraught with divisions from the get-go, as you know. I mean, early on, people's personal cell phones were confiscated because of concerns about leaking. Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former staffer, just wrote a memoir in which she described taping conversations because people don't trust each other.
LOTTER: And it violates that trust. And that hinders the success of the administration. And that's, I think, one of the big reasons why the president is frustrated with these types of activities. If this person believes what they wrote, then they should have put their name next to it, not hiding behind the cloak of anonymity while trying to protect the republic. No, if you feel this way, step aside. Let someone in there who will come in and work with this administration to continue the success that he has seen. And if anything is happening to subvert that, that is a violation of the trust the president has placed in you.
MARTIN: Although this is not in isolation, right? This is coming just days after excerpts of Bob Woodward's new book came out in which situations were described where top officials in the administration were doing the same thing, were creating workarounds. In the book, Gary Cohn, top economic adviser, is described as removing a piece of paper, at least once, from the president's desk to prevent him from making what he believed to be a catastrophic error.
LOTTER: And I can't speak to that specific example. I know that was reported. And again, this - one of the fundamental things that I think we have got to understand - and with President Trump, he surrounds himself with people who disagree. Gary Cohn is a well-known Democrat. He's got very strong views and long-held views in terms of economics and how they should be conducted. He also has people who are on the other side.
The president is also one who's willing to challenge orthodoxy. Just because Republicans have always stood for a certain aspect of something doesn't necessarily mean that we should continue doing it. He will challenge you if he thinks he can get to his end policy goal, he will use whatever lever he can to reach that goal.
MARTIN: But these aren't just people with whom he may disagree on policy. I mean, we've got the Woodward book with all these different allegations. We've now got the author of this anonymous op-ed in The New York Times. Axios, this morning, reporting that two other senior administration officials reached out to that news organization to support the op-ed, to say that the author took the words out of their mouth - that there are, quote, "dozens and dozens of us," referring to this internal resistance against the president.
LOTTER: And that's very disturbing. And one of the questions I have...
MARTIN: Do you believe that?
LOTTER: I do...
MARTIN: Do you think that is true?
LOTTER: I have never seen that. And I was just with the president last week. I traveled with him to Indiana, both to and from, for his rally there - had a great opportunity to talk to him for quite a bit of time. And he's focused on the things that he's talking about when he's out in public. He wants to fix...
MARTIN: But that means you either think these people are lying or they don't actually work in the administration.
LOTTER: Well, the other question I would wonder is - how senior are they? And I'll tell you, I had a title that would make me sound very senior as special assistant to the president of the United States. And in many places, I would probably be viewed as senior staff. But I can also tell you there were a lot of meetings that were at a lot higher pay grades than I was. And so until we know who this person was, what title they held and what role they played, whether it was in meetings, in interactions - there are many people who have very lofty-sounding titles that have very little interaction with the president of the United States.
MARTIN: Do you...
LOTTER: So we need to know who that is so we can put it in proper context.
MARTIN: Do you believe it's someone who works in the White House or one of the agencies?
LOTTER: There's really not - I have nothing to go on to say it isn't. But it does concern me, and I think they should resign immediately if they feel they cannot continue to serve this administration and support the policies of the president and where he's taking our country.
MARTIN: Marc Lotter, former special assistant to President Trump.
Thank you so much for your time, sir.
LOTTER: Thank you.
MARTIN: We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
Mara, what are you hearing about the fallout from this op-ed?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: What we're hearing and what we saw in public yesterday in the president's reaction is that he is absolutely livid about this. And if this op-ed was to show this very high-minded, patriotic, secret cabal inside the White House protecting the president from himself and the country from the president, it's possible that this will have the exact opposite effect, make the president even more angry and paranoid and make it even harder for some kind of secret cabal to work in secrecy since they've just been outed.
And the White House is trying to figure out who wrote this. There are over a thousand Senate-confirmed positions in the administration. As Marc explained, there are a lot of senior administration officials. The White House doesn't know if this person works in or outside of the White House. But I will say, the bottom line is the picture that it painted, regardless of whether you think this op-ed should have been published, should have been published anonymously, it rings true. It fits with what we've read in the Woodward book, what those of us who cover the White House hear in our...
MARTIN: Have been reporting for months.
LIASSON: ...Reporting. People will say, it's worse than you think. It's a miserable place to work.
MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And you are listening to NPR News.