As he jetted to Paris last Friday, President Trump received a congratulatory phone call aboard Air Force One. British Prime Minister Theresa May was calling to celebrate the Republican Party’s wins in the midterm elections — never mind that Democrats seized control of the House — but her appeal to the American president’s vanity was met with an ornery outburst.
Trump berated May for Britain not doing enough, in his assessment, to contain Iran. He questioned her over Brexit and complained about the trade deals he sees as unfair with European countries. May has endured Trump’s churlish temper before, but still her aides were shaken by his especially foul mood, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the conversation.
The president also was angry and resentful over French President Emmanuel Macron’s public rebuke of rising nationalism, which Trump considered a personal attack. And that was after his difficult meeting with Macron, where officials said little progress was made as Trump again brought up his frustrations over trade and Iran.
“He’s just a bull carrying his own china shop with him whenever he travels the world,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said.
Meanwhile, Trump was plotting a shake-up in his administration. He told advisers over the weekend that he had decided to remove Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and that he also was seriously considering replacing White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, who scrambled early this week to try to save Nielsen’s job.
The senior White House official, who speaks to the president regularly, said Trump has been grousing lately about getting rid of Kelly. “But he’s done this three or four times before,” this person said. “Nothing is ever real until he sends the tweet.”
First lady Melania Trump shared her husband’s irritation and impatience with some of the staff. On Tuesday, amid reports that the president had decided to oust deputy national security adviser Mira R. Ricardel over tensions between her and other administration officials, the first lady’s office issued an extraordinary statement to reporters calling for her firing.
Kelly has sought for months to oust Ricardel, calling her a problematic hire in the West Wing, and Mattis has told advisers that he wants her out as well, the officials said.
A National Security Council spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Grisham’s statement was remarkable because it is so unusual for a first lady or her East Wing staff to weigh in on personnel matters elsewhere in the White House, particularly in the realm of national security.
Last week, the tumult began even before Trump took off for Paris. After directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, controversy swirled around acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker’s qualifications for the job, business entanglements and previous public opposition to the Russia investigation.
Trump chose not to make the trip, and Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended in his stead.
Trump told advisers he considered Macron’s comment a personal insult, and it came on the heels of a disagreement between the two leaders over Macron’s call for a “true European army.” At their bilateral meeting on Saturday, Trump appeared subdued and almost sullen.