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Trump breaks with decades of protocol with tweet before release of jobs report

Job growth accelerated in May, and the unemployment rate fell to an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump on Friday shattered several decades of protocol — and possibly violated a federal directive — by hinting strongly that the monthly U.S. jobs report would be a rosy one 69 minutes before its release.

In an 11-word Twitter post, Trump jolted financial markets and provided the latest example of how he is reshaping the presidency to fit his freewheeling impulses, pushing aside years of tight controls on the public release of sensitive material that were put in place by Republicans and Democrats.

“Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning,” Trump tweeted at 7:21 a.m.

Trump, like past presidents, is given a preview of the sensitive report before its official release, but a 1985 directive issued by the Reagan administration requires that the executive branch not comment on the information until an hour after it is made public.

Within seconds of Trump’s post, the U.S. dollar strengthened and Treasury yields rose as investors anticipated the strong report they thought Trump had foreshadowed. They appear to have read Trump’s tweet correctly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 223,000 jobs were created in May, beating expectations, and that the unemployment rate had fallen to 3.8 percent.

The jobs report episode follows 16 months of a presidency in which Trump has cast aside traditions with such frequency that practices long considered taboo are now routine, even as critics say Trump is gambling with some of the nation’s most sensitive information.

In May 2017, the president revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a private Oval Office meeting. Specifically, Trump shared details of an Islamic State terrorist threat, which were believed to have been provided by Israel, a key U.S. ally.

Last month, Trump bragged about classified military strikes in Syria during a private fundraiser with high-dollar donors in midtown Manhattan, according to news reports.

In March, Trump boasted in another private fundraiser — this one in Missouri — that he had simply made up facts about the trade relationship between the United States and Canada during a meeting with Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, a top U.S. ally.

And late last year, responding to criticism that he had been silent about the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces members in Niger, the president referred the 2010 death of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s son in Afghanistan, publicly revealing what Kelly had shared privately with him — that then-President Barack Obama did not call Kelly after his son’s death.

In fact, because of Trump’s penchant for blurting out sensitive information — often, apparently, simply because it is at the top of his mind — many West Wing aides and advisers privately say they are hesitant to share anything with Trump that they do not want to become public.

During the 2016 campaign, when Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, both became eligible to receive classified briefings, some intelligence officials also expressed reservations about sharing sensitive information with Trump.

Trump’s supporters revere this mold-breaking approach, but it has created an environment in which information that has long been closely held by the government is now fair game for Trump to reveal through a Twitter post or a casual remark.

White House officials brush aside most criticism because Trump often decides what information will be disclosed before consulting with advisers.

On the Friday jobs report, White House officials said Trump did not breach the 1985 directive because he did not reveal what the specific number of jobs created would be, but he was clearly pleased with what the data would show.

“He didn’t give any numbers,” Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters outside the White House on Friday. “No one revealed any numbers.”

Kudlow later told CNBC that he briefed Trump on the details of the jobs report Thursday evening on Air Force One, making clear that Trump knew the specifics of the report well before he sent the Twitter message to more than 50 million followers.

“He chose to tweet,” Kudlow said, asserting that Trump had followed both the rules and past practices. “You can read into that 10 different things if you want to read into it.”

Several hours after the report was officially released, Trump, speaking at a U.S. Coast Guard change-of-command ceremony, said the jobs data represented “yet one more historic milestone.”

The rule governing comment on the jobs data was put in place for at least two reasons. First, financial markets respond immediately to the monthly report, and a premature release could lead to insider trading or market manipulation.

Second, there has been a strong effort to insulate this information from political leaders, as advance discussion of the data could make it seem politicized. During the Obama administration, Trump routinely said that the numbers in the jobs report had been tampered with to bolster Democrats’ political prospects.

“He simply ignored the wall,” New York University presidential historian Timothy Naftali said of Trump’s post Friday. “He jumped over it. It’s not the first norm he’s breached; I think I’ve lost count of how many norms he’s ignored or violated.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the jobs report on the first Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m. The information is protected so carefully that the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers receives it only the afternoon or evening before its release. In the Trump administration, it is the director of the NEC who often shares the data with the president. In past administrations, that task was often performed by the CEA chairman, who is seen as less political.

Jason Furman, who served as CEA chairman during the Obama administration, said that if Obama had done this, “I would go in and tell him how serious it was and that he was jeopardizing his access to the data.”

Trump often wants to know the information as soon as possible, a person familiar with the briefings said, and receives the information on Thursday evenings, as he did this week when he was briefed by Kudlow.

The Republican National Committee pushed back against criticism of Trump’s Friday Twitter post by pointing to a comment Obama made on Feb. 5, 2009, the day before jobs data was released. Obama said then: “Tomorrow, we’re expecting another dismal jobs report.”

That comment was made, however, shortly after lunch, hours before the White House would have received the jobs data. And it came at the height of the financial crisis, when companies were laying off workers and the stock market was sliding nearly every day. At the time, there was little mystery about what the jobs report would contain, although it was also a time of economic turmoil in which any remarks on the economy risked spooking investors.

Still, Obama’s first NEC director, Lawrence Summers, said Friday that Trump’s Twitter post would have prompted numerous investigations during Obama’s tenure or that of President Bill Clinton.

Naftali said Friday’s comment by Trump was the latest example of the president effectively acting as his own communications director, a role in which constantly touts reports he thinks make him look good and undermines data — even government data — that he dislikes.

“He has been on a campaign to undermine public trust in information that doesn’t come from him,” Naftali said. “He wants to be the source of all the good information, and anything that doesn’t come from him, if it in any way shows a less-than-positive aspect of his administration, he decries as fake.”