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Trump Skips Usual Fanfare, Privately Signs Election Meddling Order

Obama White House aide on intended message: ‘Please don’t pay attention to this’

President Donald Trump walks from the West Wing to Marine One on his way to Joint Base Andrews Friday July 20, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump walks from the West Wing to Marine One on his way to Joint Base Andrews Friday July 20, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Donald Trump’s top national security adviser said the president signed an executive order this week on election meddling to show he has “taken command” of the matter. But this time, the White House broke from its practice of using such directives to make a public splash, instead keeping the event from the public and press.

The president himself has frequently called for reporters and photographers to be allowed into events he thinks will help his media narrative — even when his public schedule did not call for journalists in the room. This time, on the morning of the signing, his public schedule was empty until an 11:30 a.m. intelligence briefing.

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A White House spokeswoman did not respond when asked to explain why the meddling order was signed without journalists in the room and why the White House has yet to release a photo of the president putting pen to paper. Later in the afternoon, when the White House released its “photos of the week,” there was no shot of Trump signing the order.

But a former Obama White House communications aide on Friday said the message from the president and his team is clear.

“The White House has no greater asset than the president to push a story. We’d frequently sign [executive orders], but the ones we wanted attention for, we always would sign them publicly,” the former Obama White House official said. “That’s Press 101. If you sign one quietly, you are sending the opposite message: Please don’t pay attention to this.”

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From his first hours in office, Trump has frequently put his signature on orders, then held them up for the cameras. The White House’s official YouTube page even includes a link to another page devoted exclusively to public events at which he has signed executive actions

When the president last year signed the first version of his controversial “travel ban,” which blocked individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, Trump’s motorcade ferried him to the Pentagon to put pen on paper. Cable networks took it live and journalists were in the room.

On July 19, the White House held an event in the East Room that included remarks from Trump before he signed an order establishing a “National Council for the American Worker,” a directive described in a statement as aimed at addressing the “country’s urgent workforce issues.” Cable networks took that event live and journalists were in the room.

Watch: Capitol Hill Might Dodge Florence Direct Hit, But Watch for Flooding

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Reporters and photographers were led into the Oval Office on June 20 to document Trump, bowing to public pressure, signing an executive action supposedly ending the practice of separating migrant children from their parents amid a firestorm that saw congressional Republicans break with him.

“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” he said. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”

The White House has even taken the signing show on the road, including a Jan. 8 Trump appearance at American Farm Bureau Federation conference in Nashville. After remarks, he signed an order directing federal agencies to “seek to reduce barriers to capital investment, remove obstacles to broadband services and more efficiently employ government resources.” Cable networks carried the event live and journalists were in the hall.

Trump has yet to utter public remarks about Wednesday’s meddling directive. The White House press office eventually issued a statement attributed to him hours after saying the order had been signed, lauding its contents.

Trump had been slated to be on the road Thursday and Friday for campaign rallies and fundraisers in Missouri and Mississippi. Those events were scrapped due to Hurricane Florence, leaving the president at the White House to receive briefings from FEMA and Homeland Security officials about the storm and its expected wake.

A press pool, a small group of rotating White House press corps members, has been allowed in to hear from Trump and other presidents in the past following such briefings. That was the case Tuesday, when the president, flanked by FEMA and DHS officials, issued a warning about Florence, calling it “tremendously big and tremendously wet” with “tremendous amounts of water.”

But the Thursday press pool was never summoned. Nor were there scheduled opportunities for journalists to hear directly from the president about the hurricane or ask questions Friday.

It seems a very public president has suddenly gone dark.

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