Takeaways from Trump aide’s account of chaotic White House
NEW YORK (AP) — Ferocious tantrums. Family gossip. Petty nicknames.
Stephanie Grisham, once a White House press secretary and chief of staff to first lady Melania Trump, is out with a book next week that paints a deeply unflattering picture of Donald Trump — a man with a “terrifying” temper who ogled a young aide and tried to impress dictators while president, she writes.
Grisham, who holds the distinction of having never held a press briefing while serving as White House press secretary, charts her path from low-level press wrangler to the Trumps’ inner circles, and her gradual disillusionment with the family and eventual resignation following the Jan. 6 insurrection.
As have the many books critical of Trump, Grisham’s “I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House” has drawn Trump’s ire. He bashed the book and its author in deeply personal terms, saying in a statement that Grisham was “paid by a radical left-leaning publisher to say bad and untrue things.”
Highlights of the book include:
ON MELANIA TRUMP
Grisham describes the former first lady as a Marie Antoinette figure who refused to condemn the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Trump’s supporters stormed the building to try to halt certification of the 2020 election results.
Grisham writes that she texted Melania Trump as the scene unfolded. “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?” she says she asked. She writes that “literally one minute later and while she was preparing a photo shoot of a new rug she had selected — yes, you read that right — Melania Trump sent me back a one-word response: ‘No.’”
It was a breaking point for Grisham, who both praises the former first lady’s off-camera temperament and offers insight into her peculiarities. She writes that Melania Trump’s habit of avoiding public appearances was so “extreme” that the “Secret Service unofficially dubbed her ‘Rapunzel’ because she remained in her tower, never descending.”
She also writes that Melania Trump responded to the saga of adult film star Stormy Daniels and allegations of her husband’s infidelity by tweeting a photo of herself on the arm of a handsome military aide and insisting at one point that she travel alone.
“I do not want to be like Hillary Clinton,” Melania Trump reportedly told Grisham. “She walked to Marine One holding the hands with her husband after Monica news and it did not look good.”
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“His temper was terrifying. And it could be directed at anyone, whether he or she deserved it or not,” Grisham writes. “He questioned people’s confidence, their looks, their intelligence — whatever he thought would do the most damage to someone’s psych.”
Trump had particular contempt, she says, for the White House lawyers. “He didn’t like them telling him that things he wanted to do were unethical or illegal.”
Staff, she recounts, often deceived Trump to avoid his wrath, and tried to temper his worst impulses by stalling or distracting in a White House “where everything was like a clown car on fire running at full speed into a warehouse full of fireworks.”
Grisham writes that, while serving as press secretary, she noticed Trump “taking an unusual interest in a young, highly attractive press wrangler” on her team, asking where the woman was, whether she would be traveling with him on foreign trips, and asking Grisham to bring the aide to his office cabin on Air Force One.
“Put her on TV. Keep her happy, promote her,” she claims Trump would tell her. “Let’s bring her up here and look at her ass,” she says she was told he had once said.
Grisham also recalls uncomfortable encounters she had with the president, including him noting one day that she didn’t wear pantyhose. On one occasion, she writes, he asked her then-boyfriend whether she was “good in bed.”
“On still another occasion, he asked me to reach out to a prominent supporter in Arizona. He wanted me to advise her to no longer wear sleeveless dresses and tops, saying they weren’t flattering to her and it wasn’t ‘a good look.’”
“You talk to her though,” he allegedly told her. “I can’t with MeToo and all.”
AN AWKWARD CALL
Trump allegedly felt compelled to respond to Daniels’ charges about the size of his genitalia. Grisham says she received an awkward telephone call from the president from aboard Air Force One, who assured her that “everything down there is fine.”
“Uh, yes, sir,” she says she replied. “Not in two million years had I ever thought I’d have a conversation with the president of the United States about his penis. Thankfully the call ended shortly after that.”
“He always seemed to want dictators to respect him,” Grisham writes, pointing in particular to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom staff suspected of arranging for an attractive interpreter and coughing to throw Trump off-guard.
She described one encounter at the meeting of the Group of 20 nations in Osaka in 2019 when Trump seemed intent on placating the Russian leader. “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,” she recounts Trump saying.
Grisham also writes that Trump “frequently said insane things to foreign leaders” that ranged from absurd to disconcerting.
“Trump loved to order cabinet secretaries, staff, or whoever else was sitting near him to give this dictator or that whatever it was he wanted,” she writes. “I believe he must have thought it made him look tough and powerful. As for us? We generally slow walked or ignored the president and very rarely did exactly what he asked.”
The book describes deep jealousy among staff and within the Trump family. Melania Trump had a nickname for Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior White House adviser: “The Princess,” she claims.
“Princess always runs to her father,” Grisham recounted the first lady as often complaining.
Grisham recalls how she and her husband, Jared Kushner, had jockeyed to be part of an official greeting ahead of a state dinner in the United Kingdom hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
“Jared and Ivanka thought they were the royal family of the United States — on the same level as William and Kate in the United Kingdom,” she writes. She also blames Kushner for Trump’s loss last November.
ON HER ROLE
One reason, Grisham writes, that she didn’t want to hold formal press briefings was that she knew that ”sooner or later the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic.”
Indeed, at one point, she says, Trump asked her to reenact his “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which led to his first impeachment, and “use two voices” on the briefing room “stage.” She writes that Trump also asked her constantly whether the press could be removed from the White House.
Trump’s hair, she writes, “is much longer than I had imagined, like multiple inches from end to end. He cuts it himself with a pair of huge scissors that could probably cut a ribbon at an opening of one of his properties.”
And as for his distinctive hue? She says there was no tanning bed in the White House. “The president’s look was created with makeup that he put on his face every morning, as if he were going to be appearing on a TV show. Which, in a sense, he was.”