President Trump received a phone call from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Thursday just ahead of a “controversial” House vote to reauthorize a key part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The reason for the call? Trump was watching Andrew Napolitano on Fox News, and he was tearing into the Trump administration for supporting the bill.
“I’m scratching my head,” Napolitano said. “I don’t understand why Donald Trump is in favor of this.”
And, just like that, a few minutes later, Trump tweeted out against a bill his own White House was in favor of.
It’s amazing that Trump didn’t even know his own administration was in support of the bill.
What most people don’t know is that once Trump tweeted this out, it caused chaos on Capitol Hill. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as Trump’s top aides in the White House, were all in befuddled, thinking Trump would be in favor of signing the bill. Now they were no longer sure because of his tweet.
According to the Washington Post, it “freaked out” several House Republican leaders.
Paul Ryan spent 30 minutes on the phone with Trump, explaining to him that FISA was a foreign surveillance act, not a domestic one. Basically – Ryan gave him the Presidents 101 class, having to speak to him at length about what the program was about. The scary thing? FISA is something every president learns about before becoming president. It’s covered in top-secret national security briefings – briefings Trump has skipped while he was president-elect, claiming he didn’t need to hear the same information over and over.
Trump’s White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also spoke directly with Trump, having to explain the importance of the program before going to the Capitol to take questions from lawmakers on Trump’s tweet.
“That’s called cleanup on aisle six,” quipped one Republican strategist.
Then – after more than an hour of playing damage control – and Trump finally understanding what it is he had done – he sent out another tweet voicing his support of the bill.
The House ended up voting to renew the program, which allows U.S. spy agencies to gather intelligence on foreign targets located outside the United States, but the damage to Trump’s intellect and knowledge surrounding key presidential issues was already done.
“The president’s ping-pong on attitudes toward the FISA renewal suggests to me that he doesn’t fully understand the issue, which is complicated even for experts to understand,” said John E. McLaughlin, a former head of the CIA. “For the intelligence community, it is yet another signal that the president is not fully attuned to how they operate and how carefully they stay within the law.”
Senator Mark Warner hit the nail on the head with his comment, too: He knew exactly where Trump had gotten his information from, since this isn’t the first time Trump has watched something on Fox & Friends, only to begin tweeting about it moments later.
When Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the episode, she did her best to try and deflect:
“We don’t think there was a conflict at all,” Sanders said. “The president fully supports the 702 and was happy to see that it passed the House today. . . . We don’t see any contradiction or confusion in that.”
Sanders then snapped at NBC News Hallie Jackson for bringing up the two contradicting tweets from Trump: “I think that the premise of your question is completely ridiculous and shows the lack of knowledge that you have on this process.”