Stephanie Grisham, the former Trump White House press secretary perhaps best known for never holding a televised briefing with reporters, plans to release a tell-all book next week that accuses President Donald Trump of abusing his staff, placating dictators like Vladimir Putin of Russia, and making sexual comments about a young White House aide.
In her book, titled I’ll Take Your Questions Now, Grisham recalls her time working for a president she says constantly berated her and made outlandish requests, including a demand that she appear before the press corps and re-enact a certain call with the Ukrainian president that led to Trump’s (first) impeachment, an assignment she managed to avoid.
“I 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,” Grisham writes, offering a reason for why she never held a briefing.
Putin's translator was a very attractive brunette woman with long hair, a pretty face, and a wonderful figure, possibly selected specifically to distract the American president
After serving as press secretary, Grisham worked in Melania Trump’s office. She resigned on January 6th this year, as a horde of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol. Her book was kept a secret from her closest allies in the White House, though by the time she departed Washington, DC, that number had dwindled. (She writes that, months before the election, she had moved to Kansas.) Her publisher, HarperCollins, calls the book the “most frank and intimate portrait of the Trump White House yet”.
The former president and his advisers have already moved to discredit Grisham’s account, and have used increasingly personal terms to disparage her. “Stephanie didn’t have what it takes and that was obvious from the beginning,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. He accused of her becoming “very angry and bitter” after a breakup. “She had big problems and we felt that she should work out those problems for herself. Now, like everyone else, she gets paid by a radical left-leaning publisher to say bad and untrue things.”
In her book Grisham offers a preemptive response to the criticism: “This is not, by the way, a book where you need to like me.” Here are some highlights from the manuscript obtained by The New York Times.
A (fleetingly) tough stance toward Putin is just for show
Grisham lands on a well-documented theme when she explores Trump’s love of dictators. But she says Trump went out of his way to please one in particular: Putin, whose cold reception of Trump, she writes, seemed to make the president want to impress him even more.
“With all the talk of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and for various human rights abuses, Trump told Putin, ‘OK, 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,’” Grisham writes, recalling a meeting between the two leaders during the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in 2019.
During that meeting Grisham listened to Fiona Hill, Trump’s top adviser on Russia (and, later, an impeachment witness), who observed what she said were Putin’s subtle efforts to throw Trump off guard. “As the meeting began, Fiona Hill leaned over and asked me if I had noticed Putin’s translator, who was a very attractive brunette woman with long hair, a pretty face, and a wonderful figure,” Grisham writes. “She proceeded to tell me that she suspected the woman had been selected by Putin specifically to distract our president.”
Sexist language towards women
While he was in the White House, Trump’s targets included a young press aide whom Grisham says the president repeatedly invited up to his Air Force One cabin, including once to “look at her...”, using an expletive to describe her rear end. Trump, she writes, instructed her to promote the woman and “keep her happy”. Instead Grisham tried to keep her away from the president.
During an Oval Office rant about E Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s, Trump first insults Carroll’s looks. Then he gazes into Grisham’s eyes and says something that unnerves her. “‘You just deny it,’” he told Grisham. ‘That’s what you do in every situation. Right, Stephanie? You just deny it,’ he repeated, emphasizing the words.”
Melania Trump’s quiet rebellion
Grisham also confirms what she and Melania Trump had long denied: that the first lady was angry after several reports of her husband's infidelities – and hush-money payments – surfaced in the news media. To the contrary: "After the Stormy Daniels story broke and all the allegations that followed from other women," Grisham writes, "I felt that Mrs Trump was basically unleashed." The first lady, she says, found ways to omit her husband from photos and tweets, and made it a point to show up on the arm of a handsome military aide. Melania Trump, who is closed off to even her closest aides, begins to open up to Grisham, telling her that she doesn't believe her husband's denials or those from his former fixer, Michael Cohen – "Oh, please, are you kidding me?" she asks at one point. "I don't believe any of that," the first lady adds, using an expletive. (This book, it should be said, contains a lot of expletives.)
Grisham also attempts to illuminate why Melania Trump wore a jacket inscribed with the phrase “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” to visit a Texas camp for child migrants, but she focuses more on the president’s reaction: “What the hell were you thinking?” he asked Grisham and his wife in the Oval Office, before instructing an aide to tweet out a cover story: “You just tell them you were talking to the” news media, he told the group.
The first lady grew more disengaged over time, Grisham writes, to the point where she was asleep on election night. She was overseeing a photo shoot of a rug on January 6th and declined to comment publicly on what was happening at the Capitol. (For Grisham, this was the last straw. She resigned later that day.)
Demands to evict the press from the White House
Grisham says that a trip to North Korea inspired Trump to ask her to research ways the press could be permanently evicted from the White House briefing room. “I researched different places we could put them other than the press briefing room. Each time the president asked me about my progress on the matter, I let him know I was still working on options,” Grisham writes. As she tries to please Trump, whose press coverage was relentlessly negative, she describes his anger toward her and others as “terrifying”: “When I began to see how his temper wasn’t just for shock value or the cameras,” she writes, “I began to regret my decision to go to the West Wing.”
She says one frequent target of Trump's ire was Pat Cipollone, who served as White House counsel: "He didn't like them telling him that things he wanted to do were unethical or illegal. So he'd scream at them. But then he'd usually listen. And then yell at them again later."
Grisham details a scene in which the president undergoes a colonoscopy without anesthesia because, she reasons, even temporarily assigning power to the vice president would have been 'showing weakness'
There were other indignities: Grisham writes that Trump called her while aboard Air Force One to defend the size of his penis after Stormy Daniels insulted it in an interview. “Uh, yes sir,” Grisham replied.
At one point, she writes, Trump's handlers designated an unnamed White House official known as the Music Man to play him his favourite show tunes, including Memory, from Cats, to pull him from the brink of rage. (The aide, it is revealed later, is Grisham's ex-boyfriend. She does not identify him, but it is Max Miller, a former White House official now running for Congress with Trump's support.)
Grisham was a close-up observer of Trump’s obsession with control, and details a scene in which the president undergoes a colonoscopy without anesthesia – though she doesn’t name the procedure – because, she reasons, even temporarily assigning power to the vice president would have been “showing weakness”.
In the end Grisham stood by as three chiefs of staff, two press secretaries and countless other aides resigned. She notes that Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, seemed to grow more powerful. Ivanka Trump, she says, made it a point to insert herself into meetings where she did not belong, including when she demanded that her father address the nation from the Oval Office during the early days of the pandemic. But Grisham reserves special ire for Kushner, whom she calls "Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit." (At one point Trump warns her not to get on Kushner's bad side.)
"The truth was that pretty much everyone eventually wore out their welcome with the president," Grisham writes. "We were bottles of milk with expiration dates." The former press secretary adds, "I should have spoken up more." – This article originally appeared in The New York Times