President Donald Trump is eager for a new crackdown on undocumented immigrants — so eager that he reportedly forgot he was supposed to keep it a secret.
The accidental leak provides an opening for those in a position of power to hold the government accountable before it takes further actions that could devastate families and children. It’s also the latest example of Trump undermining members of his own administration.
Trump tweeted Monday night that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin removing “millions” of undocumented immigrants from the United States “next week.” Not only would an action of that size be completely unrealistic given the resources ICE has, the announcement also reportedly came as a total surprise to the agency.
While plans for a massive cross-country raid have been in the works, The Washington Post reported that the operation was not imminent, nor did anybody know Trump would be revealing it on Twitter.
Such plans are often kept secret so as not to tip off those who might be cruelly targeted by the raid — which in this case appears to include many people who are still awaiting asylum claims and have followed the legal process accordingly.
This particular action would also involve separating many parents from their children, if they’re arrested when their kids aren’t home. The consequences would directly parallel the family separation policy Trump instituted at the border last year, which was later (supposedly) quashed. It’s likewise prompted similar public outrage.
Already, some, like Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, are thanking Trump for unintentionally giving them a heads up about the planned raids, allowing them to be on the lookout for vulnerable immigrant communities in their cities.
“If you continue to threaten, target and terrorize families in my community… and if we receive credible information… you already know what our values are in Oakland — and we will unapologetically stand up for those values,” she tweeted Tuesday night.
As The Washington Post notes, the administration last year criticized Schaaf for warning immigrants in the city about impending raids, claiming she had endangered ICE officers.
It’s hardly the first time Trump’s impulsive Twitter habits have undermined his own officials, for better or for worse. Another classic example was his decision to spontaneously announce on Twitter that he was planning to ban transgender people from serving in the military. He had not consulted with any of his military leaders before making that announcement, and all four service chiefs have publicly said that they don’t support the ban.
Trump’s lack of foresight has undermined his administration’s ability to defend the ban from legal challenges. It was only after the fact that it conducted a new study on the issue from which to derive justifications for the decision — an approach that didn’t impress the courts. This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the opportunity to conclude that when the lower court revisits these justifications, it must do so in the context that targeting transgender people for discrimination in any context is unconstitutional. This new precedent will actually protect trans people in many ways besides the military ban, and it’s a significant backfire for an administration set on undermining trans rights at every turn.
Last month, Trump also undermined his own national security adviser, John Bolton, on a number of national security issues. Bolton sought regime change in Iran; Trump said he opposed it. Bolton had also said that North Korea’s missile tests violated United Nations resolutions, but Trump disagreed.
While some have argued that the two are playing a game of good cop/bad cop, many White House insiders claim Trump simply dislikes Bolton, and reportedly once joked, “If it was up to John, we’d be in four wars now.”
The claim that this sort of contradictory messaging is intentional is also questionable at best.
Trump insisted last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not meddling in Venezuela’s affairs, directly contradicting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said days earlier that Putin was propping up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s controversial regime.
Trump regularly did this to Pompeo’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who conspicuously departed the administration last March, hours after he broke from the White House’s talking points and condemned Russia for the high profile poisoning of a British spy.
The longest-running example of Trump undermining U.S. officials revolves around his insistence that Russia was not responsible for meddling in the 2016 election. In the face of every U.S. intelligence agency, Trump stood next to Putin last year and publicly declared that he believed Putin’s denial. He has repeated this claim several times since, despite special counsel Robert Mueller outlining Russia’s interference efforts in detail, in his final report on the matter, made public in April.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ imminent departure is a reminder of how little Trump tries to moderate or control his communications. As Sanders tried to explain earlier this year, the White House stopped holding regular press briefings because Trump preferred addressing people directly through his Twitter account, often speaking his mind on any number of issues.
While the White House has tried to spin this as a win for transparency, there’s nothing stopping him from undermining his own officials with any given tweet.