WASHINGTON — Late to his own meeting and waving a sheet of numbers,
President Trump stormed into the Oval Office one day in June, plainly
Five months before, Mr. Trump had dispatched federal officers to the
nation’s airports to stop travelers from several Muslim countries from
entering the United States in a dramatic demonstration of how he would
deliver on his campaign promise to fortify the nation’s borders.
But so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he
vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his
pledge. Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Mr. Trump said.
According to six officials who attended or were briefed about the meeting,
Mr. Trump then began reading aloud from the document, which his domestic
policy adviser, Stephen Miller, had given him just before the meeting. The
document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United
States in 2017.
More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president
Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according
to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed
about it by a different person who was there.
Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen
the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa,
recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive
conversation in the Oval Office.
As the meeting continued, John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland
security, and Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, tried to
interject, explaining that many were short-term travelers making one-time
visits. But as the president continued, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Miller turned
their ire on Mr. Tillerson, blaming him for the influx of foreigners and
prompting the secretary of state to throw up his arms in frustration. If
he was so bad at his job, maybe he should stop issuing visas altogether,
Mr. Tillerson fired back.
Tempers flared and Mr. Kelly asked that the room be cleared of staff
members. But even after the door to the Oval Office was closed, aides
could still hear the president berating his most senior advisers.