Surrounded by a shrinking circle of aides, a brooding Trump lays into Pence
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Donald Trump has increasingly isolated himself in the White House, relying on a small group of diehard loyalists and lashing out at those who dare to cross him, including Vice President Mike Pence, said four sources familiar with the matter.
Some longtime advisers are steering clear of talking to Trump after he fired up hundreds of supporters who swarmed the U.S. Capitol in what even fellow Republicans called a deep stain on Trump’s legacy.
The unprecedented breach of the Capitol building on Wednesday forced Pence and members of Congress to be evacuated just as they had convened to certify the 2020 election victory of President-elect Joe Biden over Trump. Four people died in the mayhem, including a woman shot by police.
“Don’t want to,” said one adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity, when asked if there had been any recent contact with the president.
Trump has repeatedly lambasted Pence, publicly and privately, for refusing to try to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s win, and has been seething at Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, for stating that Pence would perform his constitutional duty, the sources said.
This week Trump berated Pence to his face, one source said. The vice president’s office declined to comment.
But Republican Senator Jim Inhofe told the Tulsa World newspaper he spoke to Pence on Wednesday night.
“I’ve known Mike Pence forever,” he said. “I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today.”
A former senior administration official said the rift between the two men was deep and they may never speak to each other again.
Pence, a former Indiana governor and former Republican lawmaker who harbors presidential ambitions, has been loyal to Trump throughout the president’s four years in office.
A Pence adviser said “everyone around him is very proud of him” for how he performed his constitutional duty and that he had told Trump ahead of time what he planned to do.
“Mike Pence does not surprise the president. He was honest about what he was going to do,” the adviser.
LOYALISTS ‘EGGING HIM ON’
Trump was extremely agitated on Wednesday, moving from the Oval Office to the nearby private dining room, initially energized, but increasingly angry and closed off, said one source.
Trump was not allowing staff to help craft any messages earlier in the day on Wednesday. “It’s not a controlled situation,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, Trump, a frequent golfer who owns several courses, gave the Medal of Freedom to Hall of Fame golfers Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player. The ceremony, normally conducted in public, took place behind closed doors.
Trump has surrounded himself with an ever-smaller group of loyalists who cater to his whims, including digital director Dan Scavino, personal aide John McEntee, trade adviser Peter Navarro, speechwriter Stephen Miller, and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, one source said.
“It’s sad. These are the people around him and egging him on,” the source said, who also asked not to be identified.
The White House declined to comment.
It was Scavino who, after Congress certified Biden’s victory, tweeted out a statement from Trump early on Thursday to say the president would go along with an orderly transition of power to Biden. Trump himself was suspended from Twitter at the time and could not send the tweet himself.
In the statement, Trump clung to the notion that the Nov. 3 election was rigged against him but acknowledged he would be leaving the White House on Biden’s Inauguration Day.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on Jan. 20,” he said.
The statement was seen by some close to the White House as an attempt to forestall a wave of resignations.
One former Trump White House official said the president had shown a failure in leadership for not immediately going on television to tell his supporters at the Capitol to stand down and leave.
“He has blood on his hands from yesterday. A woman died,” he said.
There has been some talk among Cabinet members and allies about invoking the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a way to remove Trump from office, but a source familiar with that effort doubted it would take place given the short period of time left in his term.
Some White House officials, stunned by Trump’s downward spiral in recent days, were debating whether to resign in protest or to stay for the last two weeks to ensure a proper transition to the Biden team, one aide said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, on Thursday became the first Trump Cabinet member to quit since the Capitol siege.
Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg said Trump’s temperament reflected his aversion to losing.
“This is him at the end, when he loses something. This is the way it is, the end,” Nunberg said.
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