The New York Times‘ Glenn Thrush joined me this morning:
HH: If you read one thing today, you’ve got to read in the New York Times the Glenn Thrush/Michael Shear/Eileen Sullivan piece entitled John Kelly Quickly Moves To Impose Military Discipline On White House. Glenn Thrush, good morning to you, my friend.
GT: Hey, Hugh, long time, no speak.
HH: It’s been a couple of weeks. I’m glad you’re back. Great piece this morning. I’m very optimistic about Kelly. I spent 40 minutes with General McMaster on Wednesday which will air on MSNBC at 8am, and he seemed like a man energized, focused and empowered. I picked that up in your article. Kelly has basically given McMaster the go-to to organize the NSC, correct?
GT: Yeah, and it’s a pretty interesting dynamic. I think it’s a little bit of a slap back for Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon who were really for a long time blocking him from Trump, making personnel moves that he had wanted to make. This is really, and we talked about all the things that Kelly represents. But the real essence here is that Bannon and Kushner, and people like them, were roving very far outside of their lanes, particularly on matters of personnel, and Kelly realizes unlike Reince Priebus that if you pinch that, you know, you cut that off at the pass, that’s the way you really start running the building.
HH: Now Reince is and was a friend of mine, remains a good friend of mine. But when you come in, the first week that you set a tone, it’s the tone that stays with you for the entire administration. And if there’s an open door in the first week, you can’t close it ever. Kelly closed it pretty tight this week, did he not, Glenn Thrush?
GT: He did so literally, Hugh. I mean, the stuff that we are hearing is he mandated that the door be, it’s a very simple thing to do, but if you’ve been around the West Wing lately, you know the office is open. Trump likes it that way. People wander in. Kelly shut that door. And then the other thing that he’s been doing is not on every call, but on specific calls where he feels a cabinet secretary or someone else isn’t really playing with the team, or is somebody who is prone to kind of shuttling information to the President, he’ll listen in on the phone call. Now that’s not unheard of. I’ve heard of other chiefs of staff doing that in the past. But it is pretty striking, considering how wild and open everything was beforehand.
HH: Now the other thing I want to talk to you about, Glenn, is who replaces him at the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve been spending a lot of time, by chance, with Admiral James Stavridis over the last week. He was on my MSNBC show, he’s doing a three-parter with me on my radio show. He’s a genius. He was also the commander of Southern Command, as Kelly was beforehand, and Venezuela is falling apart. They’re going to have a refugee crisis, maybe a, as Stavridis says, a very violent civil war. Any buzz about maybe, the President interviewed Stavridis to be his secretary of State, picked Tillerson. Any buzz about Stavridis coming in to replace John Kelly at DHS?
GT: I have not heard that. I’ll tell you why. I think that’s a tricky job to take right now for a couple of reasons. First of all, as you know, the Department of Homeland Security is a miserable patchwork of agencies that were kind of thrown into one basket after 9/11, right? And the only secretary thus far to really occupy it with any force is Kelly. And that is principally because you know, Donald Trump is not a guy who’s particularly well-versed in the history of these agencies. And when he sees the Department of Homeland Security, he says wow, that’s a big, important agency. Well, Kelly knows better, and Kelly, one would presume, wanted, would want to maintain a level of personal control over that agency. So I would suspect, and this is kind of the way it works in the military, that you are more likely, and I could be wrong about this, more likely to see somebody that he feels comfortable working with from the West Wing than anybody who’s a big player with a lot of independence on their own.
HH: Well, here’s a bit of info for you. Stavridis and Kelly have been friends since their 20s when they served on the Forrestal together. He knows him intimately well. They’re very close, and having run Southern Command, they have a grasp on the region. It’s really one of those nice coincidences. It would drive the ring wing nuts crazy that a centrist, non-political military officer would come in, but it would be, I think, a Kelly sanctioned move. Just watch that space. Let’s talk a little bit about…
GT: Well, the one thing I would say, can I throw one, I would throw one thing on top of that.
GT: We’ve seen a militarization, and you know, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. A lot of people are sort of questioning a military person being put in the role of chief of staff. I’m a little bit of a student of that office. It was created under Eisenhower, really, to mimic his relationship with Beetle Smith in World War II. So there’s a military predicate for it. But I would say it is the Department of Homeland Security. And I think it would be really interesting, considering the President’s incessant focus on local law enforcement, I’d be interested in seeing somebody, personally, I think for balance, it would be interesting to see a local law enforcement official in that role.
HH: That would not bother me in the least if it was not an incendiary choice. I think that role has got to be very non-partisan. I’ve always said…
GT: And Kelly shot down, you know, Sheriff Clarke.
HH: It’s got to be like, yeah, NSA, CIA. But I pointed out the Stavridis, we’ve got a war cabinet right now. The Chief of Staff’s a general, National Security Advisor is a general, Secretary of Defense is general, of course, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a general, Mike Pompeo was West Point, Admiral Rogers is Annapolis. However, Stavridis’ response is it is the first thing a military officer learns is to bring order out of chaos, real chaos. And I ask McMaster tomorrow what’s the chaos in the West Wing like compared to the chaos of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Tal-Afar, and he laughed. He chuckled, because real chaos, with bullets flying, is a lot different from moving personnel chairs around. I’m very optimistic that it’s a genuine reset. Secretary Shulkin told me that that cabinet meeting on air, on the record, not by…was as real reset. What do you think, Glenn Thrush?
GT: I disagree. Look, I think the President, part of my reporting with my colleagues this morning centered around Kelly’s reluctance to take this job. He was offered it as early as May. He really didn’t want to do it. He has said behind the scenes some really unflattering things about the President’s staff and the way the White House had been run. If you looked at his face during his swearing in ceremony and his side-by-side with the President, this was not a guy who looked like he was going to a lawn party. So I think, look, I know that is, that’s his general comportment, but I think this is a situation in which the President himself has shown such an indiscipline, and a real unwillingness to change his own modus operandi, and that’s the heart of the article today is the single point that Kelly has made at staff meetings. I’m not here to manage the President. I can’t necessarily control that. What I can do is surround him with competence, and most importantly, deal with this information flow issue, because really, we’re not just talking about people wandering in. We’re talking about misinformation wandering in to the Oval. And I am told that one of the things that he’s really set out to do is to make himself the last person that Trump talks to when he’s deliberating, so that he’s not picking something up from Fox and Friends and determining policy based on that.
HH: And that will be very useful if he does that. Again, I asked McMaster, it’ll air tomorrow at 8am, what is your job. My duty, and he uses the word duty, and I’ll bet you Kelly uses the word duty…
HH: …to get the best information to the President.
HH: These guys operate off of duty. A special grand jury has been empaneled. It’s going beyond Russia. Brit Hume tweeted out I don’t know what the writ is. Hey, there’s a bank fraud case that I wonder is going to go, and that is the Awan case, the DNC staffer arrested on bank fraud charges. What do you think, Glenn? Does that case belong with the Special Counsel?
GT: I don’t know. I mean, I think the Special Counsel has a pretty clear purview. Look, I know everyone wants to make these two issues equivalent, but we have a sitting president of the United States, and you know, these are significant allegations that touch on people who are currently in positions of authority in this country. You know, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is a congresswoman from Florida. We’ll see how this stuff all leads. I’ve not seen a ton of reporting indicating that it goes much beyond what has already been there. I will say this. Tomorrow is going to be a really interesting morning. Trump tends to tweet on Saturdays. He tends to catch up on his TV viewing and his reading as we goes back to bed and starts this 17 day vacation. Let’s see what he comes up with when it starts to sink in for him that Mueller starts to look…
HH: Good point. We’ll watch it. I do believe, though, that the Special Counsel ought to take every case connected with the attack of Russia on our election. And if that IT is connected, he ought to have it. Last question, Glenn. I drew a distinction yesterday between your interactions with the Press Secretary, with Mr. Miller, and Jim Acosta’s. You’re both friends of the show. You’re both friends of mine. I always say it’s an interview, not a debate when I have a contentious interview. I want to give you the last. I think you stayed with the interview, not a debate. I think maybe Jim got into a debate. Should White House reporters be debating people at the front of the room? Or should they be asking questions?
GT: Well, look, I can tell you what I can do. Obviously, print plays a different role than cable, and Jim has an approach to his job that’s different than my approach to my job. But you know, my sense in that was, my interaction with Steve Miller was very similar to the kind of interactions I’ve had with Steve Miller if I was talking to him on the phone. The one thing that I was cognizant of is I want, I often interrupt people at the podium when I think they’re giving a speech instead of answering a question. But you’ve got to be conscious. You’ve got to have a clock, as I’ve said now, of when you’re talking too much and taking time from other people.
HH: That’s well put. Ask questions, listen to the answers, don’t debate. That’s my guide through most interviews, not debates. Glenn Thrush, great piece in the New York Times this morning. Thank you, Glenn. Stay tuned, America.
End of interview.