The chief of staff role, traditionally one of the most important in any administration, has been a famously difficult one in the Trump era. All three of his chiefs have tried different governing styles, but the result is nearly always the same: the President ultimately makes the decisions, and eventually undercuts his top deputy.
One person familiar with White House strategy and dynamics told CNN that the President has raised concerns about having four chiefs of staff in three years.
In a statement, the White House said Mulvaney’s “standing in the White House has not changed.”
“He is still the acting chief of staff and has the President’s confidence,” deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement to CNN.
The escalating impeachment inquiry also raises questions about how appealing the chief of staff role would be to possible replacements.
Mulvaney also believed he was attempting to undermine him so Cipollone could eventually take his job. A person familiar with the dynamic said that Cipollone isn’t angling for Mulvaney’s job, but more influence, and because of the subject at hand — impeachment — more influence is within his grasp.
Mulvaney and the impeachment inquiry
Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, remains central to the White House response to the impeachment inquiry. He traveled to Camp David this weekend with Republican lawmakers.
Mulvaney’s proximity to the ballooning scandal has afforded him insulation, because of how much he knows, two sources told CNN.
Yet after last week’s remarks, which were seen as an admission that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo, Trump himself made clear that Mulvaney needed to issue a clarification. One source said Trump’s confidence in Mulvaney has fluctuated in recent months, though another said the President wasn’t that angry with his chief because he recognized Mulvaney was defending him in the briefing room.
“We all get turned into a pretzel defending Trump. That’s the sad reality,” a separate source close to the White House said.
Several Republicans said Mulvaney’s comments have made it more difficult to defend the President.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Rooney said. “I was very surprised that he said that. I don’t know why. The only thing I can assume is he meant what he had to say — that there was a quid pro quo on this stuff.”
Trump’s outside allies also expressed disbelief. During his radio show, Sean Hannity, who speaks with the President on a nearly nightly basis, asked, “What is Mulvaney even talking about? I just think he’s dumb, I really do. I don’t even think he knows what he’s talking about. That’s my take on it.”