President Donald Trump’s attempt last week to override his own administration’s newly announced sanctions targeting North Korea — and later attempts by the White House to clarify his position — were part of an attempt to clean up a rogue tweet by the commander in chief, sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.
On Friday, via Twitter, Trump announced he was canceling sanctions that his administration announced with fanfare the day prior against two Chinese shipping companies that were circumventing sanctions on North Korea.
The tweet sent members of his national security and Treasury staff scrambling to understand — and explain – his apparent reversal of what had been a carefully orchestrated policy rollout, which included a briefing by a senior administration official who touted the actions as necessary for maintaining the current sanctions package and sending a message to sanctions violators that they would be held accountable.
The president appeared confused in the tweet, because no new sanctions had been announced on that day. But his reference to the sanctions announced a day earlier was clear, and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders soon followed up with a statement affirming the president’s tweet.
“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” Sanders said in the statement.
In her statement, she made no suggestion that the president was talking about anything other than the sanctions announced Thursday, which were the only publicly announced actions against North Korea.
But then later Friday night, the administration — through an official demanding total anonymity — issued new guidance that claimed the president actually was talking about sanctions that had yet to be announced and indicating that no additional sanctions would be pursued at this time.
The anonymous administration official said the sanctions announced on Thursday would go into effect after all.
But sources familiar with the matter told ABC News that the president did mean to target those sanctions that had been announced, and as his staff scrambled to respond, he had to be convinced not to retract the sanctions.
Ultimately, the administration reaffirmed on Tuesday — again anonymously — that the sanctions that were announced initially on Thursday will go into effect.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
ABC News’ Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.