Stephanie Grisham, onetime press secretary for President Donald Trump and chief of staff for the first lady, is the latest member of Trumpworld to write a “tell-all” memoir of her time in the White House. Excerpts obtained by The Washington Post and The New York Times are predictably juicy, but one unifying theme seems to be the administration’s brazen embrace of dishonesty.
At minimum, these anecdotes highlight the former president’s wild dissociation from the truth.
Grisham reports, for example, that at the 2019 G-20 Summit in Japan, right before the video cameras started rolling, she saw Trump lean toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and overheard him say: “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.”
The Russian nesting dolls of dissembling within nesting dolls of deception are hard for any ordinary viewer to grasp. But we can assume Putin immediately understood Trump’s play, as Russia’s strongman is an original chess master at “fake news.”
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There was an innocent time when we might have described the two autocrats’ game as “collusion.” But at a minimum, these anecdotes highlight the former president’s wild dissociation from the truth, an ironic characteristic given his repeated denigration of the “fake news” media. The hypocrisy isn’t surprising, but it does bear repeating.
Grisham is famously known as the press secretary who never held a press conference. Hence the tongue-in-cheek title of her book: “Now I Will Take Your Questions.” The salacious nature of her work of alleged nonfiction should in no way rehabilitate her professional legacy. But boy — she does have the goods.
To take another example excerpted by The Washington Post, Trump’s own staff members had to lie to him to clear a very low bar of executive decorum.
In December 2018, when former President George H.W. Bush died, Trump’s staff engineered a ruse to make him look good (and, nominally, to help one of America’s most prominent political dynasties). Without telling the president, Grisham claims, his staff secretly sent Air Force One to transport the grieving ex-president’s family, earning Trump public credit for conforming to White House tradition.
Per Grisham, the staff members figured that Trump would never agree to the plan — so they just didn’t ask him. (At least since 2015, when Trump ran against Jeb in the GOP primaries, Trump has openly hated the Bushes. The feeling appears mutual.)
Grisham notes that Trump’s mysterious November 2019 presidential trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was also shrouded in secrecy — because, she says, the president didn’t want to become a punchline for, allegedly, a routine colonoscopy. Trump was terrified of becoming “the butt of a joke” on late-night TV, she claims, adding that the president also did not trust Vice President Mike Pence and wanted to avoid having to cede power to him, even for an hour. And so, the public was given no detail of a completely ordinary procedure for Americans over 50.
Karma can be cruel, and mistrust is a two-way street. In the run-up to the violence on Jan. 6, Trump’s high-pressure pitch to convince Pence that he could overturn the election as Senate president eventually fell on deaf — or at least distrusting — ears.
There are plenty of other odious gems in the book, as Grisham details the time her former boss called her up personally to reassure her that a certain body part “was not small or toadstool-shaped.” Perhaps just more “fake news”? Or maybe he knew that toadstools are commonly considered toxic.
From the tales spun by Bob Woodward to the polemics of Miles Taylor (the author known as “Anonymous”), journalists and insiders are lining up to offer Americans sordid and often off-the-record peeks behind the curtain of a chaotic, mismanaged and corrupt White House. Now Stephanie Grisham, the nonspeaking press spokesperson, is offering her own guided tour.
These books are not created equal, and many should be taken with the grain (or cup) of salt they so clearly require. Nevertheless, rarely has sunlight been so badly needed to disinfect the corridors of the aging West Wing.