News & Politics

Yale Psychiatrist Bandy Lee Claims White House Officials Told Her in October That Trump Was 'Scaring' Them and Mentally 'Unraveling'

'I referred them to the local emergency room without inquiring much further.'

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It would seem that matters are far worse than even Donald Trump's fiercest critics have suggested. As the entire world has noticed, on Wednesday the New York Times published an op-ed that is without precedent in American history for what it suggests about a sitting president.

Assuming this is not part of a gaslighting campaign or an effort to uncover Trump's "enemies" in his inner circle -- which is not out of the question -- what the Times op-ed reveals is terrifying.

An anonymous "senior official" in the administration writes that "Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader. ... The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

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Many Trump appointees, including the writer, he or she reports, "have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

There is also more evidence that Donald Trump's mental health is likely impaired:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

Bandy Lee, the Yale University psychiatrist who edited the bestselling book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President," explained to me in an email conversation that these "revelations" about Trump seem entirely predictable based on his public and other behavior.

According to Lee, the revelations about the Trump White House found in the New York Times article and Bob Woodward's forthcoming book "Fear" suggest "how deeply the troubles run and what effort is required to protect the nation from what are obviously psychological symptoms."

The senior official makes clear that the conflict is not ideology but the lack of "any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. ... [Trump's] impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back." And: "There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next." These are illustrations of emotional compulsion, impulsivity, poor concentration, narcissism, and recklessness that would normally require an evaluation, since they affect decision-making capacity and potential for violence.

None of the behavior that came out in the Bob Woodward book — as in the Michael Wolff book ["Fire and Fury"] ... is a surprise, since it is all consistent with the psychological signs we observed and warned against 18 months ago. Mental health is a science-based field of serious conditions that have predictable patterns. We foresaw the course of this presidency, based on our knowledge and clinical experience, and were concerned enough to put our warnings into a book. We now warn that things will rapidly deteriorate and that the president should submit to an urgent, independent mental health evaluation by an appropriate specialist, as is warranted. We may be delayed, but it is still not too late. The 25th Amendment is a political decision, but it would set in motion the proper treatment of an individual showing his signs of instability: restraint, limit-setting, and removal from access to weapons.

Lee also told me that these worries about Donald Trump's mental health by staffers and those other people in the president's inner circle predate Wednesday's Times op-ed.

Two White House officials actually contacted me in late October, stating that Trump was “scaring” them, that he was “unraveling.”  Not wishing to confuse the role I chose, as an educator of the public, and a potential treatment role, I referred them to the local emergency room without inquiring much further.

Psychiatrist David Reiss, another contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," told me by email that the president likely would not qualify to be an Air Force officer entrusted with a nuclear weapon:

Every psychiatric Fitness-for-Duty evaluation involves assessing the problem-solving ability of the person, relevant to specific job duties; which includes gaining an understanding of the thought processes that are used in the process of problem-solving.

Trump’s public statements have provided little, if any, transparency to his inner thought processes. Extremely frequently and most typically, Trump will begin with a statement regarding his perception of a situation (a perception that may or may not contain verifiably false information) and then proceed to providing a conclusion or an opinion regarding the “necessary” course of action, with little verbalization of the logical analysis or thought processes that led from “point A” to “point B.”

Often, rather than providing any information as to alternatives that he considered and reasons for accepting or rejecting those alternatives, any “explanation” of Trump’s process of problem solving will be nothing more than a (frequently rambling) discourse regarding his feelings, his emotions and his (frequently grandiose) perceptions of his abilities. Thus, there is significant suggestion that Trump’s thought processes are inadequate to the position of being president of the United States.

If the implications of the New York Times op-ed are accurate, there would be strong evidence that Trump could not pass a psychiatric Fitness-for-Duty examination appropriate to his position.

Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, also agrees that Donald Trump should not have access to nuclear weapons. In a phone interview, Painter said, "Trump's mental health puts the country at risk," and suggested that if Trump were to order the unprovoked use of nuclear weapons, "the vice president could invoke the 25th Amendment and very quickly try to gain control of the situation, along with a majority of the Cabinet."

Psychologist John Gartner, who has been a leading voice about the perils of Trump's presidency and the dangers he poses to the United States and the world, described the New York Times op-ed, in an email, as an "extraordinary document by any standards."

Essentially, the White House staff have de facto informally invoked the 25th Amendment, recognizing among themselves that [Trump] is incapable of carrying out the duties of the office. Knowing that he is dangerously mentally unbalanced, they are seeking to provide ballast to keep him from capsizing the ship of state. This is a madness of King George situation. Or perhaps we should say the emperor's new clothes, where everyone can see the emperor has no sanity, even though no one is allowed to say it aloud.

The anonymous senior staff member who authored the New York Times article writes with the tone of someone who believes that he or she, along with others in Trump's White House, is a patriot acting in the country's interest. "Americans should know that there are adults in the room," this person writes. "We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t."

This is not just "cold comfort," as this anonymous author puts it, but no comfort at all. In reality these aides and others in Trump's orbit are enabling his regime and the harm he is causing. They are not heroes. Moreover, the anonymous Trump staffer and those other people who know how dangerous the president is but choose to stay on could actually be considered cowards. Like so many other Republicans and conservatives in the Age of Trump, they are putting party over patriotism and the well-being of the United States.

They bemoan Trump's authoritarian and fascist behavior, yet continue to support him and his policies. They wish that Trump would not lie so often and act with such gross contempt toward the truth, yet continue to support him and his policies. They may describe Trump's attacks on freedom of the press are "concerning" and "worrisome," but they continue to support him and his policies.

Ultimately, this anonymous senior staff member appears more concerned about the mark history will put next to their name for working with the Donald Trump than with saving the United States from a president who they know to be dangerously unqualified and perhaps unsound of mind.

The anonymous Trump official concludes his or her article by calling on "everyday citizens" to rise "above politics," reach "across the aisle" and "shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans."  Times op-ed as follows:

If this person really believed that and was willing to put the welfare of the nation first, perhaps he or she and the other "adults in the room" within Trump's White House would resign as a group, hold a joint press conference and tell the world the grave threat posed by Donald Trump.

Of course that will not happen. Forcing a calamitous and destructive version of conservative policies onto the American people -- which most of them do not support -- is more important to this supposed whistleblower than protecting the country's democracy from its enemies. Even those in the Oval Office.

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Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Follow him on Twitter.