September 6, 2018 at 9:31 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Woodward book: Trump surprised top staff with trans military ban
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President Donald Trump ban trans military service. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The new book by journalist Bob Woodward depicting chaos in the White House asserts President Trump announced his transgender military ban before hearing from officials during a planned meeting as he privately made anti-trans remarks describing gender reassignment surgery as “getting clipped,” according to a report in the Washington Examiner.

When Trump announced in a tweet in July 2017 he’d ban transgender people from the U.S. military “in any capacity,” he said he’d consulted military experts on the issue. However, the book — “Fear: Trump in the White House” — reportedly says Trump made the announcement before a planned meeting with top officials on options for transgender service.

Trump delivered the tweets reportedly about an hour before he was set to meet then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and adviser Steve Bannon in the Oval Office to discuss those options, which were made by the National Security Council.

According to the report, the council had no clear consensus from on transgender service and Priebus warned an all-and-all out ban would trigger lawsuits. Therefore, the ban on transgender service members “in any capacity” was surprising.

“What’d you think of my tweet?” Trump reportedly asked Priebus later.

“I think it would’ve been better if we had a decision memo, looped [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis in,” Priebus replied.

Priebus’ reported prediction on lawsuits came to pass. LGBT legal groups sued Trump over the ban and successfully enjoined the military from carrying the policy. Four federal courts have ruled against the policy and two appellate courts have upheld those decisions, although the litigation continues to make its way through the judicial system.

Although Trump said he consulted experts on that day and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the daily briefing he gave a heads up to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the book reportedly says the Pentagon chief to the contrary was caught by surprise because he was vacation at the time on West Coast and was concerned about the impact of the tweet on transgender service members.

Sally Donnelly, an aide to Mattis at the time, called Bannon and said the defense secretary opposed the decision by Trump and would try to reverse it.

“Hey, we’ve got a problem with the boss,” she reportedly said. “We can’t stand by this transgender decision. This is just not right. They are American citizens.”

The book reportedly says Bannon responded to Mattis pleas with defiance and anti-trans comments.

“These guys are coming over to get full surgery. We’re supposed to pay for that?” Bannon told her. “You’ve got to take one for the team.”

Although Mattis reportedly expressed sympathy for transgender troops, that didn’t stop him from reaffirming the policy months later. After Trump directed Mattis to review transgender military service in a subsequent memo, the Pentagon chief issued recommendations earlier prohibiting transgender service with limited exceptions. That policy remains on hold thanks to court orders against the ban.

Although Trump reportedly didn’t consult with military advisers before the tweets, he was under pressure from the Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House, which reportedly threatened to vote against the budget if the administration didn’t cut back on military funding for gender reassignment surgery.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), an anti-LGBT lawmaker, had at the time introduced to the House floor an amendment banning the Pentagon from paying for transition-related care after making false claims about exorbitant costs of the procedure. Despite her efforts, the measure couldn’t pass the U.S. House even with a Republican majority.

Those false estimates reportedly somehow got to Trump, who made anti-trans remarks about service members getting clipped in response.

“What the fuck? They’re coming in here, they’re getting clipped,” Trump reportedly told Bannon, a reference to enlisting and undergoing surgery. “Not going to happen.”

According to the book, general counsels from the military services had met on the issue. Although they didn’t agree on a way forward, they prepared four options for Trump: Keep the Obama policy allowing transgender service; allow Mattis to come up with his own plan; issue a presidential order permitting transgender troops already in service to remain; or ban all transgender troops from service.

On the day of the tweets, Priebus presented the options to Trump via speakerphone and promised to flesh them out at the scheduled meeting later in the morning.

“I’ll be down at 10,” the president said, according to the book. “Why don’t you guys come and see me then? We’ll figure it out.”

Although Priebus reportedly believed the Trump administration “had found an orderly process on at least one controversial matter,” the former chief of staff shortly thereafter received the notification on his phone about Trump’s tweets and found the decision was made.

The White House has lambasted the Woodward book, which stirred coverage in the media as Trump scandals grow, as a work of fiction.

“This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “While it is not always pretty, and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people. Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in revelations of the book speak volumes about the transgender ban, the people working for Trump and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

“The details unveiled by this book confirm what we already knew about this president and those working for him,” Keisling said. “Not a single member of his staff was willing to defend the honor of thousands of transgender troops by standing up to the president’s dangerous whims and blatant prejudice. Instead, they rolled over and accepted a ban they knew was immoral, illegal and dangerous to our national security. As senators consider President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, they should ask themselves if Judge Kavanaugh will have any less deference and blind loyalty to the president who nominated him.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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