Trump Officials Halt Travel on Worry Over White House Chaos
(Bloomberg) -- Top U.S. officials abruptly canceled international travel this week out of concern foreign adversaries could exploit a historic political crisis -- and that President Donald Trump and his White House are under too much strain to contend with them, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation.
One day after the State Department said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo would travel to Belgium -- and just before U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft was due to depart for Taiwan -- the department announced Tuesday that all travel by senior officials was canceled.
The State Department cited the need to help with the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, but it came just days after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cut his travels in the Mideast short to return to Washington.
The people, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cancellations were fueled by concern among top officials that the White House is too chaotic following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Pompeo consulted on the decision to cancel official travel with fellow Cabinet members, including Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, and none of them disagreed with the change, the people said.
A State Department spokesperson, asked Tuesday night for comment, cited the need to focus on the transition and referred back to the agency’s earlier statement.
White House spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. One official denied any instability and said aides are carrying out their duties.
The cancellation of the Pompeo and Craft trips came two days after Mnuchin cut short his Mideast travels, citing the need to aid the Biden transition yet also amid growing public concern about the turmoil in Washington. A Treasury Department spokesperson declined to comment.
Mnuchin and Pompeo are among the president’s closest advisers, having been with him since the start of his term despite high turnover in the senior ranks of the administration.
People familiar with White House operations say the priority there now is keeping Trump calm as Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20 nears and the House prepares to impeach the president Wednesday on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot.
The U.S. Capitol began to take on the feel of a military base Wednesday morning, with national guard troops sleeping in hallways and law enforcement continuing to beef up the perimeter of the building breached by the rioters a week earlier.
At the White House, work on the transition continued, with incoming Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan visiting for meetings, according to one U.S. official.
But the city is tense.
The president’s supporters have pledged another round of protests in Washington, D.C., and all 50 state capitals this weekend, with law enforcement authorities warning that some demonstrators could be armed.
Pompeo has sent a lengthy series of tweets in recent days seeking to project an air of normalcy and signal that the work of the State Department continues. He has kept up tough messages on China and Iran, giving speeches and interviews repeating his assertion that the Trump administration’s “America First” approach made the U.S. safer.
Yet the secretary remains troubled by what occurred on Jan. 6, and a series of tweets he wrote later that day condemning the violence were seen as an implicit rebuke of the president, though Trump wasn’t mentioned by name, two people said.
“What happened that day was terrible, and I have said repeatedly that those folks who engaged in this activity need to be identified, prosecuted, and they are criminals and ought to be treated as such,” Pompeo told the Hugh Hewitt Show on Tuesday. “But history will reflect on the good work that this president and our administration has done.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.