Donald Trump in recent weeks has spent increasing amounts of time in the White House residence, rather than working in the Oval Office, largely because he fears “prying eyes” and “leaks to the media,” according to former administration officials who spoke to Politico for a report published online Sunday.
Even the now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — the call at the heart of impeachment proceedings against Trump — was placed from the White House executive residence rather than the Oval Office, according to the Politico report.
The executive residence, where presidents and their families make their home, is the central structure in the White House complex, and the one most often seen in photographs of the White House exterior. The Oval Office is located in the West Wing, an annex constructed in 1902 during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Trump has cut back on his time in the Oval Office and has hunkered down in the executive residence as he feels increasingly “under siege by the Democratic impeachment inquiry,” according to Politico. But Trump has long been “wary” of his staff members and “distrustful” of the standard White House way of carrying out executive branch functions, the publication reported.
Based on interviews with a “half dozen” current and former Trump administration officials, the site reported that remaining sheltered in the residence gives Trump “a greater sense of control” as he faces the impeachment inquiry against him, as well as his re-election bid in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Political commentators on Twitter reacted with sarcasm to the Politico report.
“Impressive to think you can be elected President and are afraid to work in the Oval Office because you’re afraid your own appointees are going to laugh at you or rat you out,” wrote Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall on his Twitter account.
Others noted the Politico report’s indications that Trump’s retreat to the residence also gives him greater secrecy, allowing him to avoid leaving official records of his visitors and phone calls. When he is in the residence, “outsiders” have no access to Trump, unless he personally allows them to enter, or chooses to speak to them on the phone.
Only Trump himself and the White House switchboard operator know to whom the president has spoken via phone from the residence, according to Politico. But Trump often circumvents even the operator by placing calls using his cell phone.
Trump’s reliance on the residence to conduct business marks a departure from previous presidents, according to Gary Walters, who served as chief White House usher during seven administrations starting with Richard M. Nixon and ending with George W. Bush.
“They did most of their work in the Oval Office and in the West Wing,” Walters told Politico, referring to the seven presidents — five Republicans and two Democrats — under whom he served. “There was very little done in the residence.”