The Best Gossip from Books About Trump Presidency

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

For lovers of salacious political gossip that may or may not be true, January 5, 2018 was a banner day. President Trump’s legal team had threatened to sue if Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury wasn’t kept off the shelves; instead publisher Henry Holt & Co. released the White House tell-all early because of “unprecedented demand.” Within a week it was the fastest-selling book in the publisher’s history and I was relishing every second of the audiobook. Trump didn’t even want to be president! His attorney “took care of” as many as 100 potential sex scandals during the campaign! Steve Bannon predicted that Robert Mueller’s team was “going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV!”

This year, there’s been a deluge of books about the inner workings of the previous administrations from journalists on the Trump beat and former White House insiders with scores to settle and reputations they’d like to rehabilitate; Axios reports that Trump himself has given “at least 22 interviews for 17 different books since leaving office.” While these tomes continue to sell well, I am now too cynical to devote even eight hours to “ear reading” a book whose basic take away is “Trump: not a great guy.” Therefore, please join me on this tour of the juiciest tidbits from the latest batch of Trump books. I do not know if they are true, but I do know they are darkly amusing and might even be shocking if we weren’t all numb.

Source: I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

The report: Stephanie Grisham, the former Trump White House press secretary (whom you probably don’t remember because she never held a press briefing) and chief of staff to Melania Trump, claims in her forthcoming book that Trump was cutting his own infamous locks even before the pandemic made amateur barbering a trend. According to the Washington Post, Grisham writes that Trump would cut his hair using “a huge pair of scissors that could probably cut a ribbon at an opening of one of his properties.”

Source: I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

Report: When Melania Trump returned to the White House after donning a jacket reading “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” during a trip to visit child migrants, she was summoned to the Oval Office – which was a first. President Trump then yelled at Grisham and his wife, asking, “What the hell were you thinking?”

If you too would like the answer to this question, you’re out of luck. Melania’s reasons for ordering a $39 jacket online from Zara, then wearing it to the border, are still a mystery. According to the Times, Grisham only reveals that Trump himself came up with the cover story, telling an aide to tweet out that his wife’s target was the Fake News Media, not migrant children separated from their parents.

Source: Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender

The report: In this too-on-the-nose anecdote, during a trip to Europe Trump remarked to John Kelly, “Well, Hitler did a lot of good things.”

According to an anonymous source who wants us to know about Kelly’s behind-the-scenes heroism, the former chief of staff tried to school his boss on Nazi atrocities, then settled for ensuring he wouldn’t repeat this in public. From The Guardian:

But Bender says unnamed sources reported that Kelly “told the president that he was wrong, but Trump was undeterred,” emphasizing German economic recovery under Hitler during the 1930s.

“Kelly pushed back again,” Bender writes, “and argued that the German people would have been better off poor than subjected to the Nazi genocide.”

Bender adds that Kelly told Trump that even if his claim about the German economy under the Nazis after 1933 were true, “you cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can’t.”

Source: I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

Report: Do you believe that Trump would endure significant physical discomfort just to maintain his strongman persona? That is the central question raised by Grisham’s explanation for Trump’s impromptu trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2019, which prompted much wild speculation. Though she does not actually use the word “colonoscopy,” according to the Post, Grisham writes that it was “a very common procedure” for which “a patient is sometimes put under” and that George W. Bush had one as president, too.

Grisham explains that Trump refused to disclose this to the media, though it could have encouraged Americans to undergo regular cancer screenings, because he didn’t want to be “the butt of a joke” on late-night TV. According to the New York Times, Grisham says Trump also underwent the procedure without anesthesia because he felt giving Vice President Mike Pence power even for a few hours would be “showing weakness.”

Source: I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

Report: During a meeting on the sidelines of the 2019 G20 summit, Trump warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin that he was going get tough with him – but it was just for show. Grisham writes, per the Times:

With all the talk of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and for various human rights abuses, Trump told Putin, “Okay, I’m going to act a little tougher with you for a few minutes. But it’s for the cameras, and after they leave we’ll talk. You understand.”

As Intelligencer’s Benjamin Hart notes, “One can only imagine what Trump was like with Putin in private.”

Source: Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

Report: A consistent theme throughout this entire genre is that everyone around Trump thinks he’s dangerously stupid, but mainly all they do about it is make fun of him behind his back. As New York contributor Ben Jacobs noted, the book reports that Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “thought that the president was experiencing mental decline” and “Attorney General William Barr compared him to a deranged character from Dr. Strangelove.” Mitch McConnell is quoted as joking in the Senate cloakroom: “Do you know why [former secretary of State Rex] Tillerson was able to say he didn’t call the president a ‘moron’? Because he called him a ‘fucking moron’.” Solid.

Source: Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta

Report: When it comes to moronic ideas for containing a pandemic, you’re never going to beat hmm … has anyone tried injecting bleach? But there were a lot of runners up. Abutaleb and Paletta report that in the early days of the pandemic, Trump offered a suggestion on how to handle Americans who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 abroad. “Don’t we have an island that we own?” he reportedly asked advisers assembled in the Situation Room. “What about Guantánamo?”

Aides were stunned, according to the Washington Post, and when Trump brought it up again the idea was quickly scuttled, as they worried that “quarantining American tourists on the same Caribbean base where the United States holds terrorism suspects” might cause some kind of backlash.

Source: Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta

Report: Another recurring theme in these books: Trump bemoans the idiocy within his administration, only to learn the calls are coming from inside his own house(s).

For instance, while berating berated Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a March 18 phone call, Trump reportedly declared “Testing is killing me!” and demanded to know why the federal government got involved in COVID-19 testing in the first place.

“I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?” Trump said.

“Uh, do you mean Jared?” Azar responded.

Source: Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender

Report: In a scene reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s famous “shut up, Wesley” scene, if Wesley was the opposite of a boy genius and seemed pretty racist, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley reportedly snapped at Stephen Miller in 2020 when the Trump adviser compared the unfolding racial-justice protests to something out of a third-world country and suggested that Black Lives Matter demonstrators had turned U.S. cities into war zones. Per CNN:

“These cities are burning,” Miller warned, according to the excerpts.

The comment infuriated Milley, who viewed Miller as not only wrong but out of his lane, Bender writes, noting the Army general who had commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan spun around in his seat and pointed a finger directly at Miller.

“Shut the f– – – up, Stephen,” Milley snapped, according to the excerpts.

Source: Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender

Report: For your mental file of unsurprising yet still appalling Trump behavior: During the same discussions about racial justice protests, Trump reportedly pointed to footage of law enforcement getting physical with demonstrators and said that’s what he wanted to see. Per CNN:

“That’s how you’re supposed to handle these people,” Trump told his top law enforcement and military officials, according to Bender. “Crack their skulls!”

Trump also told his team that he wanted the military to go in and “beat the f– – – out” of the civil rights protesters, Bender writes.

“Just shoot them,” Trump said on multiple occasions inside the Oval Office, according to the excerpts.

When Milley and Barr suggested the president should tone down the bloodlust he replied, “Well, shoot them in the leg — or maybe the foot … but be hard on them!”

Source: Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender

Report: During the racial-justice protests in June 2020, President Trump was briefly taken into a bunker under the White House. Days later, he fumed to assembled military, law enforcement, and West Wing officials about this fact being leaked to the press.

“‘Whoever did that, they should be charged with treason!’ Trump yelled, according to Bender. ‘They should be executed!’”

It appears that all of the Trump administration leakers lived to share dirt for the new batch of Trump books.

Source: Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency by Michael Wolff

Report: As the pandemic took hold the spring of 2020, Trump thought Democrats were trying to weaken their own presidential nominee, Joe Biden, so they could replace him with Andrew Cuomo, who was successfully painting himself as “America’s governor” at the time. Per Spectrum News 1:

Trump’s source, according to journalist Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book Landslide, was Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

According to a portion of the book obtained by Spectrum News 1, Trump met with Republican strategist Karl Rove in the Oval Office to discuss the theory of a Cuomo-led Democratic ticket. Trump believed the plan was being orchestrated by former President Barack Obama, and even suggested one possibility was to have Michelle Obama run on the ticket with Cuomo.

Rove, according to the book, found the claim to be a “bizarre theory.”

Trump is not only the president for people who believe Hannity’s conspiracy theories, he’s also a client.

Souce: Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency by Michael Wolff

Report: In the summer of 2020, Trump reportedly raised the idea of delaying the election or “calling it off” due to the pandemic, Wolff reports. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told him the Constitution would not allow this, but Trump wasn’t convinced, so he asked Chris Christie about it during debate prep. From Business Insider:

“I’m thinking about calling it off,” Trump told Christie, the book says.

“The prep?” Christie reportedly said.

“No, the election — too much virus,” Trump was said to have replied. According to Wolff, Christie then told him, “You can’t do that, man,” adding: “You do know, you can’t declare martial law. You do know that, right?”

This isn’t a huge shock as Trump also floated this idea in a July 30 tweet bashing mail voting, which concluded, “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Trump received widespread criticism, though his use of three question marks clearly indicates he was only thinking about suspending the Constitution.

Source: Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender

Report: Despite receiving a slap on the wrist from Fox News for appearing in a Trump campaign spot in 2016, Sean Hannity helped write a Trump campaign ad in the 2020 election. Trump campaign officials found the ad (which described Biden as a “47-year swamp creature”) so terrible that they only ran it during Hannity.

Here’s Bender’s summary of the debacle, which ran in Punchbowl:

“Multiple internal campaign emails referred to the spot simply as ‘Hannity.’ Another referred to it as the ‘Hannity-written’ spot. ‘POTUS has not yet approved, but Hannity has,’ read one email. ‘Hannity said this is our best spot yet,’ another campaign aide wrote … Inside the campaign, the spot was mocked mercilessly — mostly because of the dramatic, over-the-top language and a message that seemed to value quantity over quality.” 

… In the book, Bender writes that the Trump campaign “deemed it so useless that they limited it to exactly one show: Hannity. … If Trump and Hannity watched the spot on television — and were satisfied enough to stop asking about the commercial — that seemed to be the best result of the ad.

The campaign basically spent $1.5 million to reach Hannity viewers — people who, presumably, are already pretty partial to Trump — at a time when they were so strapped for cash that they were pulling other ads. And the spot didn’t even feature an original swamp-creature illustration:

Hannity denied any involvement, telling Bender: “The world knows that Sean Hannity supports Donald Trump. But my involvement specifically in the campaign — no. I was not involved that much. Anybody who said that is full of shit.” But in Bender’s interview with Trump, the ex-president did not dispute the story.

Source: I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig

Report: Though Trump repeatedly indicated that he planned to prematurely declare victory on Election Night, a book excerpt published in the Washington Post suggests Giuliani came up with the idea on the fly — after some heavy drinking — while quizzing top Trump aides aides about early state-by-state returns.

“What’s happening in Michigan?” [Giuliani] asked.

They said it was too early to tell, votes were still being counted and they couldn’t say.

“Just say we won,” Giuliani told them.

Same thing in Pennsylvania. “Just say we won Pennsylvania,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani’s grand plan was to just say Trump won, state after state, based on nothing.

Later in the evening, Guiliani reportedly urged Trump himself to ignore Fox News calling Arizona for Biden. “Just go declare victory right now,” Giuliani told Trump. “You’ve got to go declare victory now.”

Michael Wolff offered an even more sensational account, telling MSNBC that Giuliani was so drunk on Election Night that Trump advisers worried he would break the White House china.

“And at that moment, Rudy was incredibly drunk, weaving this way and that way,” Wolff said. “And the china, those place settings from every president are very valuable and Trump’s aides were obviously, or rightfully, concerned about what Giuliani was saying to the president about the election, and giving him this misinformation. But they were also concerned that he was going to break the china.”

Giuliani has insisted this is not true, and he’s “not an alcoholic.”

Source: I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

Report: Grisham says that the First Lady slept through much of Election Night 2020.

“I knew by now how much sleep meant to her, but still, I couldn’t imagine being asleep at a time like that,” she wrote. “Maybe she thought that someone would wake her up if Trump won.”

Melania did wake up to join Trump at his 2:30 a.m. press conference, and sneaking in a nap before your husband ineptly attempts to execute a coup seems pretty reasonable. The same goes for manically rolling around on the floor on Election Night 2020, as Grisham is shown doing in these ostensibly “embarrassing” photos a Melania defender leaked to the Daily Mail.

Source: I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

Report: Grisham claims that soon after rioters breached the Capitol barricades on January 6, she asked the First Lady if she wanted to send a text discouraging this sort of behavior. Per Politico:

“Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?” Grisham asked the First Lady.

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No.” At that moment, she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected …

Grisham also claims Melania spent an inordinate amount of time working on her photo albums; the aide describes the photo books as one of “her two children.” The Melania mystery deepens!

Source: I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig and Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

Report: In a tale that lends credence to both Godwin’s law and our darkest fears about Trump, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley kept making Hitler references when describing his concerns about what Trump might do to stay in power.

I Alone Can Fix It reports that in November 2020, Milley called Trump supporters rallying behind the president’s false claims of a stolen election “Brownshirts in the streets.” Then, as Trump continued pushing the narrative in the following weeks, Milley told aides, “This is a Reichstag moment,” referring to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish the Nazi dictatorship. “The gospel of the Führer.”

Peril added more detail, reporting that Milley was so concerned that Trump might “go rogue” in the final weeks of his presidency that he reassured his Chinese counterpart that the U.S. was not planning a strike, and reminded top U.S. officials that Trump couldn’t unilaterally launch nukes. “Milley also summoned senior officers to review the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, saying the president alone could give the order — but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved,” the key passage reads. “Looking each in the eye, Milley asked the officers to affirm that they had understood, the authors write, in what he considered an ‘oath.’”

Trump and his allies called this behavior “treasonous,” though subsequent reports suggested the general’s actions were routine and less dramatic than Peril made it seem. Woodward and Costa responded, “We stand by our reporting.”

Source: Betrayal by Jonathan Karl

Report: In the wake of the Capitol Riot, Mitch McConnell tried to have the four top congressional leaders write a letter informing Trump that he was not welcome at Biden’s inauguration. According to Politico, Karl reports that the then-Senate majority leader “felt he could not give Trump another opportunity to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.”

This historic snub never came to pass because Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who opposed the move, informed the White House of the plan. Trump then tweet that he would not be attending Biden’s swearing in.

On Monday, Trump (incoherently) pushed back on this report, issuing a statement claiming that he “would never have agreed to go to Joe Biden’s inauguration,” but also “probably would have held my nose and gone” if it meant sticking it to “the old broken-down Crow,” McConnell.

This piece has been updated throughout.

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