White House aides this week told several news outlets including Bloomberg News that President Donald Trump had “sworn off” his habit of watching MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” along with many of his favorite CNN programs.
But last Tuesday, the morning of his well-received speech to a joint session of Congress, Trump sat down in the Oval Office with none other than Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” fame, spending a full 15 minutes chatting with the anchor, an MSNBC spokesperson confirmed.
The apparent disconnect between some aides’ insistence that Trump is taking his feud with the media seriously enough to turn off the TV, and his tendency to grant access to hosts of his favorite shows, suggests that aides haven’t yet figured out how to curb their boss’ habits.
Trump’s relationship to Scarborough isn’t the only one of the president’s old ties that his aides have tried to downplay.
Trump’s aides and advisers have declared that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is not that close to the president and has lost clout since he was unceremoniously ousted from leading the transition team shortly after the Nov. 8 election. But Trump frequently calls Christie to ask his opinion on the administration’s performance, and to kibbitz about New York or whatever is happening that day, according to several people close to Trump with knowledge of the conversations.
The president also sought to appoint Christie as labor secretary after Trump’s first nominee, Andrew Puzder, dropped out, even though some of his top advisers disapproved of the move. Christie declined the offer.
Aides have also tried to de-emphasize the president’s friendship with Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Television, who, in a CNN appearance last month, criticized chief of staff Reince Priebus as ineffective.
“Don’t listen to Ruddy,” one senior administration official said after Ruddy’s appearance. “He’s trying to get attention. Trying to be important.”
But Ruddy, who has known Trump for more than a decade, talks to the president frequently — including a 30-minute meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday. And some of Trump’s aides feared that Ruddy was speaking on the president’s behalf when he criticized Priebus on television, because the two men had seen each other for 30 minutes the night before at Mar-a-Lago.
Ruddy told The New York Times that he was speaking only for himself, and that Priebus had called him after the interview to ask him to keep an “open mind.” A week later, Priebus and Steve Bannon had a long dinner with Ruddy, according to a person familiar with the event.
Some in the White House have balked at Anthony Scaramucci, the New York financier who is disliked by some of the president’s aides. But Scaramucci has the president’s cellphone number and continues to speak to him according to people familiar with their calls.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, who was purged last summer, still occasionally talks to the president and came in for a meeting last week with Trump, several people familiar with the calls and the meeting say.
Some people familiar with the meeting said Lewandowski’s continued relationship with Trump is frustrating for West Wing aides. Lewandowski declined to comment.
One senior White House official disclaimed any knowledge of Trump’s calls with Christie and Scaramucci, but did not deny that they occurred.
Trump keeps his own cellphone and is often alone in the West Wing at night, where he answers calls and dials people. He will sometimes ask his secretary to set up a meeting or put him on the phone with someone after seeing that person on TV.
“He talks to people in New York that his aides in the White House have no clue who they even are,” said a person who regularly talks to Trump. “They’ve never even met some of these people, but the president listens to them.”
The White House official confirmed Trump often calls people after seeing them on television, either to thank them for their comments or to engage further about the topic of discussion.
“That’s true, he’s done that for 40 years,” the White House official said, adding that it’s “a great thing that he communicates with a lot of different people.”
The relationship between Trump and Scarborough has always gone through its ups and downs, with The Washington Post going so far as to call them “frenemies forever.”
And the aides who passed the stories to Bloomberg News and The Associated Press suggested that Trump was boycotting Scarborough and instead paying extra attention to Fox News, CNBC and his usual diet of newspapers and press clippings.
The White House aide who spoke to the AP went so far as to claim that Trump had entirely ended his habit of watching “Morning Joe,” though co-host Mika Brzezinski told the AP he made similar claims during the campaign and then Trump would tell them he watches “every day.”
And sources close to the president told POLITICO last week they were pushing back on what they said was Scarborough overplaying his relationship with the president, an impression they said was incorrect and made it seem as though Trump was constantly calling Scarborough for advice. The opposite is true, these sources said, claiming that it’s Scarborough always calling Trump.
But even if Trump has turned off “Morning Joe,” there Scarborough was on Tuesday, visiting with Trump on the morning of his most important speech since his inauguration. Scarborough on Tuesday also met with Trump son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner. Scarborough and Brzezinski also had lunch with the President during his first week in office.
The people close to the president also complained that Scarborough downplays any criticism of Trump in person and then ratchets it up on the air. They say even the president has ribbed Scarborough for this. But Scarborough has insisted he always speaks his mind in front of the president.
“There’s never anything we say in person that we don’t say on television,” he told late night host Stephen Colbert last week.
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