To maximize the humiliation

The day before Trump fired Shulkin in a tweet, the Post reported that Shulkin knew it was coming but didn’t know when.

The uncertainty has left the leader of the federal government’s second-largest agency, its employees, and even senior White House officials wondering if Shulkin still officially speaks for VA. It has raised questions, too, about what’s being done to restore order at the agency after weeks of turmoil have left little doubt that Shulkin, the lone Obama administration holdover in Trump’s Cabinet, is next to go in what’s become a pronounced leadership shake-up.

What’s befallen Shulkin is a favorite tactic of Trump’s, who followed a similar approach with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and, to a lesser degree, national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The president emasculates those who fall from favor, humiliating them through media leaks and in disparaging comments to friends. The mixed signals often leave even senior White House officials guessing who will be fired and when.

“Emasculate” isn’t the right word since Trump certainly doesn’t treat women any better. Anyway the point is that he does all these firings as sadistically as he can.

[Shulkin’s] predicament is no doubt familiar to others once in the president’s inner circle.

During the last few weeks of Reince Priebus’s tenure as White House chief of staff, for example, he was so widely seen as weakened that some aides said they began skipping the meetings he called. Trump, meanwhile, told him he was doing a good job, even as other aides bet on how much longer he could survive. Trump eventually announced his replacement on Twitter minutes after Priebus walked off Air Force One onto a rainy tarmac.

In the case of Tillerson, foreign diplomats and prime ministers complained to U.S. lawmakers that they did not believe the secretary of state was speaking for the administration in the final six months of his tenure because Trump had so undercut him.

McMaster used to joke to other officials in the West Wing that any day could be his last and aides said his tenuous status kept him from doing his job.

Trump’s aides frequently ask him for the status of certain Cabinet officials so they will not say anything inaccurate publicly. Not checking frequently can leave an aide “looking dumb” with yesterday’s information, according to one former senior White House official. For instance, Trump told aides for several weeks that he was planning to oust McMaster. After a story said that, he told aides to deny it — and then moved to replace him less than a week later.

He’s such a prankster.

Shulkin, say people close to him, is under no illusions that he still has the president’s confidence. He has long feared that Trump will mete out the same fate on Twitter as some of his former colleagues have.

To that end, the secretary is laying low. He is limiting his travel to destinations close to Washington, canceling plans to speak next week at an annual ski competition for paralyzed veterans in Aspen, Colo. Shulkin is concerned, allies say, about the optics following an inspector general report that criticized a trip he led to Europe last summer.

Shulkin has told those he trusts that he wants to avoid what happened to former FBI director James B. Comey, who learned of his firing last May from a television report while meeting with agents in Los Angeles. Trump wanted to fire Tillerson via tweet while he was traveling in Africa to maximize the humiliation, advisers say, but Chief of Staff John F. Kelly convinced him otherwise.

Let me repeat that.

Trump wanted to fire Tillerson via tweet while he was traveling in Africa to maximize the humiliation, advisers say, but Chief of Staff John F. Kelly convinced him otherwise.


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