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Trump’s odd and ominous “calm before the storm” comment, not really explained

Nobody seems to know what, if anything, he was talking about.

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Nearly two days have passed since President Donald Trump ominously suggested, while standing with military leaders, that this could be “the calm before the storm.”

And still no one seems to know what, if anything, he was talking about.

To recap: On Thursday night, the White House press pool was unexpectedly called to witness a photo op with President Trump, various military officials, and their spouses, who were attending a dinner.

As cameras were rolling, Trump said, “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be, the calm. The calm before the storm.” As reporters shouted questions, he said, "We have the world's great military people in this room, I will tell you that. And uh, we're gonna have a great evening.”

Then, when asked what he meant by “storm,” he ominously answered, “You’ll find out.” And when asked about the matter again on Friday, Trump again said, “You’ll find out.”

The presence of military leaders led some to speculate that Trump could be alluding to some coming military operation. (Though if some secret operation was being planned, it would be quite irresponsible for the president to publicly drop vague hints about it.)

But so far, no storm has yet appeared. Well-sourced White House reporters like Politico’s Josh Dawsey and the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman have been unable to get to the bottom of what Trump was talking about. Administration officials — even Vice President Mike Pencehad no answers either on Friday.

If there is no planned military operation, then, could Trump have had other aims? For instance, could he be trying to vaguely bluff about a willingness to use force, signaling his unpredictability, perhaps with North Korea as the intended audience?

Or could he simply have been trying to create new headlines to distract from the reports that his secretary of state had called him a “moron?”

Or was he just in the mood to make mischief for no real reason?

The speculation about these comments in Washington brings to mind Trump’s vague threat, back in May, that there could be “tapes” about his conversations with fired FBI director James Comey. It started with a tweet:

For over a month after that, reporters repeatedly asked administration officials and Trump himself about whether he had taped his conversations in the White House, and got only vague responses. The president appeared to enjoy the speculation and often deliberately built suspense about it — he told reporters at one point that he’d reveal whether he had tapes “in the very near future.”

The general assumption was that Trump was full of it and had nothing. And in the end that did indeed prove to be the case. Trump finally tweeted on June 22 — nearly a month and a half after his initial claim — that “I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

Let’s all hope the “calm before the storm” speculation has a similarly anticlimactic ending.