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REVIEW: ‘Team of Vipers’ spills secrets, exacts vengeance on fellow members of King’s Court

Is it possible the professed love of God that so many tout these days is akin to a one-way street? The Sessions’ kind of religiosity that permits wrenching immigrant children from the arms of their mothers and Cliff Sims’ ability to jump aboard the Trump Train as he ignores Mr. Trump’s pussy-grabbing sexual assaults, his repeated dalliances while his wife, Melania, was pregnant. Does God actually return the personal relationship favor? I’d like to think God deserves a higher class of devotees.

Team Of Vipers
Cliff Sims
351 pages $29.99
St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010

Michael Cohen’s testimony of Feb. 27, 2019, before the House Oversight Committee puts Cliff Sims’ “Team of Vipers” in perspective. Michael Cohen told the world: “I am ashamed of my own failings, and I publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York. I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty – of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him.

“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”

While Republican after Republican sneeringly accused Mr. Cohen of seeking a post-prison book deal, Cliff Sims already got one. He is a viper, not a felon. A viper, Webster tells us, is a common, two-foot long Eurasian venomous snake usually fatal to humans—and/or for Cliff Sims’ and our purposes, a vicious or treacherous person.

Add Cliff Sims’ tell-all to Omarosa’s and it becomes increasingly more difficult to imagine any of these Trumpettes making America great. Sims, the oh-so-pious protégé of the Jeff Sessions/Alabama branch of Christian conservative politics, joins the Trumpian reality star making money spilling secrets and exacting vengeance on the fellow members of King’s Court.

Sims “was the CEO of Yellowhammer Multimedia, Alabama’s premier source for political news, until he joined the Trump campaign in August 2016. After the election, he moved from Trump Tower to the West Wing, where he crafted the White House’s messaging. He now advises major corporations, CEOs, and media personalities on a wide range of public affairs and communications issues. He lives with his wife and dog in Washington, D.C.”

Before we learn of his multiple moral failings, he assures us: “I was in church every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. For me, it was more like every day of the week, though, because my dad was a pastor and my mom was the church pianist …”

All that morality, and yet it was adultery that propelled Mr. Sims to the big time. Helping to take down Alabama’s 77-year-old unfaithful Gov. Bentley, who used his gubernatorial perks to conduct an affair with his advisor, the 44-year-old married mother of four, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.” God works in mysterious ways.

“Mrs. Bentley secretly recorded her husband professing love and lust to Ms. Mason, then decided Mr. Sims and Yellowhammer were the folks to leak it to. Remember this one: while “one of the sources expressed concerns about the Bentleys’ grandchildren having to endure such embarrassment,” Sims decides there were important reasons to act. “Bentley—the husband, father, church deacon, dermatologist, and now Governor—had allowed his once-sterling character to be corroded by power.”

Mr. Sims assures us: “I was raised to believe that faith is the foundation of character. At the time, my faith was one of the reasons I struggled with Trump’s unexpected rise. The playboy past, the casinos, the profanity, a seeming lack of common decency—all of it was tough to swallow for a Southern boy with Baptist ministers for a father and grandfather.” Ah, but swallow he repeatedly did.

Cliff Sims. Image courtesy CNN

Is it possible the professed love of God that so many tout these days is akin to a one-way street? The Sessions’ kind of religiosity that permits wrenching immigrant children from the arms of their mothers and Cliff Sims’ ability to jump aboard the Trump Train as he ignores Mr. Trump’s pussy-grabbing sexual assaults, his repeated dalliances while his wife, Melania, was pregnant. Does God actually return the personal relationship favor? I’d like to think God deserves a higher class of devotees.

“The campaign … made me an offer to come join right away as a communications adviser … My wife and I discussed it, prayed about it, and decided that if there was an opportunity for me to have any influence, even a small one, on the campaign, on the country’s future—on Trump himself—it would be worth the effort …”

Stephen Miller welcomed him aboard: “He had always been self-conscious about the perception that he was a fringe character, both ideologically and socially. But now he was one of the closest advisers to the Republican nominee for president … I often disagreed with him but respected that he knew what he believed and why he believed it … While working in Sessions’s Senate office, he’d single-handedly written what amounted to the definitive ‘anti-amnesty’ handbook … Immigration hard-liners had used it as their road map to successfully kill a bipartisan effort to pass so-called “comprehensive immigration reform.” (Emphasis added.)

Not the highest bar, considering “knowing what you believe” applies to just about any zealot anywhere convinced they know what’s right. As for enthusiastically killing a compromise fix for our broken immigration system, what about Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Image courtesy Alabama Today

Like his boss, Sims seems to have misplaced modesty: “‘I stood patiently as Bannon finished his email … ‘I’m Cliff Sims, from Yellowhammer News down in Alabama.’ He spun around suddenly. His voice was filled with energy. ‘The f—ing Yellowhammer is here?! The Hammer?! Epic. I know Yellowhammer. I followed it. I want you weaponizing everything. We’re not being aggressive enough. F— anyone who tells you not to do something. Let’s start wrecking some s—, okay? Good. Go.’ He buried his head back in his phone and started typing again. The conversation was over. But that was positive, right?”

How about negative! It’s impressive how Sims deludes himself, imagining he’s working for a hard-working hero, not a bankrupted billionaire bailed out a zillion times by his fabulously wealthy slumlord dad. “The New York Post ran a report a month before Election Day revealing that the Clinton campaign had literally five times more staffers than we did. We couldn’t care less. The way we saw it, they were the spoiled rich kids whose mommies and daddies bought them BMWs for their sixteenth birthday. We were still riding the bus to school and wearing last year’s fashions. But if a fight broke out in the lunchroom, you’d much rather have us on your side. We came in early, stayed late, and heard the candidate’s stump speech so many times that we could laughingly predict when the chants of “Build the wall,” “CNN sucks,” “Lock her up,” and “Drain the swamp” were about to begin.

“Bannon later described our war room team to Politico as ‘f—ing killers.… These are my psychos who do all this s—. They don’t sleep. They don’t care.’”

Mr. Sims assures us he’s got a uniquely valuable perspective: “Even the best reporters at the best media outlets are beholden to their sources, and the sources within the Trump White House are often self-serving or duplicitous. As for the most recent Trump biographies—some written by sycophants, others by haters, and even those by famous journalists: Each offers a glimpse of the real Donald Trump—the genius, the impulsive risk taker, the hothead, the insurrectionist, the hypocrite—because he can be all of these things. But none tells the full story.” Or what I call “it takes a viper to know a viper school of reporting.”

Quickly comes a campaign challenge for Bannon’s effing killers: On Friday, October 7, 2016 … The Washington Post had obtained the Access Hollywood video of Mr. Trump. When Sims tells us the rats jumped ship. “Many of our most loyal campaign surrogates refused to go on TV. Almost immediately, Republican National Committee staff stopped answering our phone calls, texts, and emails … The drumbeat for Mr. Trump to exit the race began almost immediately.”

Thus, the us-vs.-them battle that marks Trumpovia: those whose moral compass balked at blindly following an abuser and those who never thought it was big deal. And to justify his decision to stay on board, Sims offers us this bizarre anecdote: “To my surprise, Mr. Trump had walked into the room … He was wearing a blue-and-white-striped tie and his usual dark suit with an American flag lapel pin … The thing I remember most about his demeanor was how remarkably calm he was … relaxed—placid. … the entire country was coming unglued about Trump and he didn’t even seem flustered. It was strange—but also inspired a sense of, well, maybe we’ll actually get through this …

“Also sitting quietly in the room was a swimsuit model in her early twenties who had volunteered for the campaign … Mr. Trump made a beeline for her, and she stood up to greet him. ‘What do you think about all of this—the video and what everyone is saying?’ he asked her with what seemed to be genuine curiosity. ‘Oh, I don’t understand why everyone is so upset,’ she said without hesitation. He didn’t seem to believe that. ‘C’mon,’ he pressed. ‘Tell me what you really think about it. It’s okay.’ ‘I don’t think people will care after a few days,’ she said confidently. ‘I was totally not offended—not offended at all, Mr. Trump.’ With that, he smiled, shook her hand, turned around, and locked eyes with me on the other side of the room.”

Cliff Sims and Donald Trump. Photo courtesy Alabama Daily News

No long confab with his minister, no scouring the Bible for advice, no direct appeal to the Lord for guidance. There was bragging about grabbing a woman’s “pussy” and there was that reassuring smile from a swimsuit model.

“Every argument I could come up with for why I should consider quitting was selfish: What would people say about me? What would my friends at church think about me? How will being attached to this debacle affect me in the future? Me, me, me. As I considered the bigger picture, I couldn’t think of a single thing that would have been made better—for my country, my family, or myself—by Hillary Clinton being elected President.”

Because isn’t anything better than aiding Hillary, the spawn of the devil? “I joined the campaign with no illusions about who Trump was—a deeply flawed man. But the balance of the Supreme Court was on the line, which mattered to me and so many others. In my view, this really was the Flight 93 Election: ‘charge the cockpit or you die.’ … That’s a pretty hot take, obviously … so I never said this publicly. But these were the things I was thinking. They were the things I needed to tell myself in order to keep going on this campaign.” Turning a blind eye to sexual abuse, adultery, bigotry, is somehow akin to risking one’s life to defeat terrorists. Hillary, a 9/11 Hijacker? (Emphasis added.)

Sims offers up Miss Maudie from “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “Don’t fret … Things are never as bad as they seem.” Then this: “Donald Trump was the living embodiment of that statement … one quality not often attributed to Trump was consistency … Yes, Trump could be impulsive, even reckless. Sure, he operated almost entirely off of gut instinct. But he was also the most methodical, patient person I’ve ever seen in the midst of a crisis—the eye of the storm. And you could bet every penny you had that he was going to get up and go to work the next morning … So that’s what we did, too.” What did Emerson say about foolish consistency?

“Jason Miller gathered our small team together for a powwow: ‘We can no longer trust anyone at the RNC …Don’t be hostile. Don’t be rude … Just understand that we can’t trust them anymore. At this point most of them would rather Hillary win than the boss.’”

One of Sims’ first revelations is how Trump’s deep-seated racism completely foreshadowed how he’d sabotage his promise to get Mexico to pay for his wall: “‘The peso is plummeting!’ Trump exclaimed at 10:16 P.M. on Election Night, a broad smile creasing his ever-tanned face. ‘That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.’”

I’m guessing Mr. Sims had this book in mind from the very beginning: “Election Night was one of the rare moments when I was cognizant in real time of the fact that I was witnessing a significant historical moment firsthand. With that realization, I planted myself beside Mr. Trump and refused to move the entire night, even as dozens of people crammed into the room in the coming hours, trying to get in his orbit—campaign staff, volunteers, various surrogates, the mega-rich Mercer family, Mike Pence, Ben Carson, and, of course, Omarosa, beaming with pride … (Emphasis added.)

What did he witness? “Sometimes he’d start a sentence and figure out the point he wanted to make along the way. Lacking any filter, he’d make the same observation to the Queen of England that he’d make to a construction worker at one of his hotels. To those open to him, this can be one of his most endearing qualities—he just is who he is.”

But ‘just who he is’ has brought us the dissolution of decades-old international alliances, the aggressive denial of a climate crisis that threatens the Earth, the removal of critical environmental protections, an attack on affordable health care, renewed restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, the deliberate separation of immigrant children from their parents, attacks on our free press and intelligence services—not my idea of “endearing.”

Sorry for getting so serious. How about some gossip? While watching TV, Trump is a constant critic: “‘Rove is a dope,’ Trump said … ‘How many times has he been wrong about everything but they still put him out there? This guy spent a half-billion dollars and didn’t win a single race … He wants people to forget. I don’t forget, that I can tell you.’”

Sims tells us: “The race was tight enough that Trump launched into a tirade about Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of the Clinton family … ‘He pardoned sixty thousand criminals—a bunch of hardened felons; they probably killed their neighbors—just in time for the election so they could go vote for Crooked Hillary,’ the candidate grumbled …

Then, “On the verge of his ultimate victory, a historic repudiation of all of his critics, a moment when he could have taken the high road as his place in history was assured, his first thought was retribution. ‘When I get to Washington I’m gonna shove it up Kasich’s a—!’ he declared of Ohio’s vehemently anti-Trump Governor and Trump’s former presidential rival, John Kasich.”

Lucky for us: “For the next eighteen months … I would be around Trump nearly every day … In an ordinary White House, a young communications staffer wouldn’t have such access. But because Trump liked and trusted me, I found myself sitting in on meetings with foreign leaders, private conversations with his family, and discussions with the top leaders of Congress. I was a fly on the wall as history unfolded before my eyes. And I took notes, as part of my job. Lots and lots of notes. A first draft of history written in real time.”

There’s this modest judgment: “I didn’t say much for the first couple of weeks, but before long I was able to occasionally offer perspective that others didn’t have. As a result, the President grew to know and trust me, and I never violated his trust.”

Their bond is strong: “Video recording sessions were how Trump and I really first connected … He preferred to position his head in front of a darker backdrop, a lesson I wouldn’t fully learn until we were in the White House. In many video recordings done direct-to-camera, his head is at least partially in front of the top of the presidential flag, which is dark blue. This is because he doesn’t like the way his hair looks in front of a white backdrop. And if there’s any hair out of place, somebody in the room better have the TRESemmé Tres Two hair spray, extra hold. I carried a travel-size can with me everywhere I went.”

And there’s blowing smoke: Sims reminds readers that so many voters believed “that America’s economic and political systems were stacked against them. Trump hammered over and over again on his desire to blow up this ‘rigged system,’ while voters viewed ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton as one of the key architects and beneficiaries of it … [And] Trump ushered in a new era of authenticity in American politics …” (Emphasis added.)

No credit to Mark Burnett, creator of “Survivor,” who, with multiple takes and skillful video editing, took a bankrupt casino owner, then manufactured and sold the illusion of a successful businessman for the viewers of “The Apprentice.” Then, a supposed outsider/really insider who pretends to care about illegal immigration while hiring them and supplying them with false documents at his resorts. Who supposedly cares about the beleaguered hard-working Americans while creating massive tax cuts for the 1 percent, and providing peanuts for them at the very same time he tries to take away pre-existing medical condition protection from their health care?

Ivanka Trump in her Republican National Convention dress. Photo courtesy

Sims, it seems, knows a bit about lust: “‘She’s stunning’ is a common phrase used to compliment a beautiful woman’s appearance, but to use a Trumpism, it’s usually ‘truthful hyperbole.’ With Ivanka, however, it wasn’t. The first time I met her in Trump Tower I was genuinely stunned by what appeared to be a living, breathing Barbie doll. I distinctly remember thinking her face didn’t appear to have a single blemish—there was nothing being covered up by makeup …”

“Hope’s desk, sitting parallel to Madeleine’s, was the closest to the Oval Office. The President would call out for ‘Hopey’ to come in to see him countless times each day. She’d assess the press coverage for him, give recommendations on which interviews to do and which to turn down, and advise him on how to respond to the media crisis of the moment. Trump has a reputation for surrounding himself with beautiful women. Hope was no exception to this rule. She was a twenty-eight-year-old former Ralph Lauren model, after all. But that shouldn’t be taken to imply that she wasn’t a pro … She became one of my best friends in the White House. In my text conversations, I didn’t refer to her by her name, I’d just type the diamond emoji—a symbol inspired by the famous Hope Diamond on display in the Smithsonian.”

Donald Trump and Madeleine Westerhout. Photo courtesy CNBC

Anything in Exodus about covet not your candidate’s daughter, or Hope, his ever-present gal Friday, and his executive assistant, the 26-year-old brunette, Madeleine. Is Mr. Sims even conscious of his coveting?

And more self-puffery: “In the early days of the administration, my primary role in such meetings was something of a fact-checker for the press and communications team. Sometimes reporters would claim to have sources describing conversations that took place in the room. In those instances, I was able to quickly tell press aides, yes, that happened; or no, that did not happen; or well, there is a shred of truth there, but it is taken out of context. Then they could formulate a plan for how to respond.” (Emphasis added.)

An odd brag. Has no one told Mr. Sims about the Washington Post’s Pinocchio system? Or that as of Feb. 3, 2019, in 745 days, President Trump has made 8,459 false or misleading claims.

I was reminded of Julius Caesar and Shakespeare’s scene of the knives, one stab after another. Sims wants to believe his willingness to tattle and betray, to settle scores, is motivated by a higher loyalty. But he’s disloyal to so Many in service to the One. And always there’s the resort to piety, the lip service to regret, the attempt to wash away the sins that came with playing second base for the Team of Vipers.

One knife after another: Secretary Ben Carson had little experience “running such a massive organization. That didn’t matter to Trump; Carson was his guy … The President leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and took a swig of his Diet Coke … ‘So what’re we going to do, my Ben?’ Trump asked genially. The Secretary’s voice was so soft that I struggled to make out some sentences. Words left his mouth and seemed to evaporate once they hit the open air.

“Literacy was a focus … I could see Trump starting to lose interest as Carson continued articulating the detailed plans inside his notebook. First, the President shifted in his chair and readjusted a small pillow he’d placed behind his back. Then, as Carson talked about different phases of his program and whatnot, Trump glanced around the room. At some point he noted his Diet Coke was nearly gone … ‘That sounds wonderful, Ben,’ he interjected at one point. ‘I trust you to do it right.’ I had no idea what Trump had just approved, and I’m not sure he did, either. But he stood up, signaling the meeting was coming to an end. He shook Secretary Carson’s delicate, valuable right hand, the one that had saved so many lives during his decades as a surgeon, and sent him on his way. The whole meeting lasted, maybe, ten minutes.”

Here’s a knife for Chief of Staff Priebus: “Reince had all but bailed on him after the Access Hollywood crisis … Maybe his selection of Priebus for the traditionally powerful post of Chief of Staff was meant to show that he was more open-minded and forgiving than the conventional wisdom suggested. Maybe it was a recognition that Trump needed an insider to help him govern, especially given Reince’s close relationship with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Maybe it was done just so that Trump could torment Reince on a daily basis …”

Cliff Sims, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer in 2017. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

On to Kellyanne Conway: “‘What exactly does Kellyanne do?’ was a question people asked all the time. So she was able to continue being the President’s pit bull on TV—a job that never goes out of fashion in Trump World—and otherwise just dabble in areas that piqued her interest … 

And Sean Spicer: “For a while we kept a running tally of the total man-hours wasted standing outside of Sean’s office waiting for the meeting to begin. We quit a couple of weeks in when it reached into the hundreds and we gave up keeping track. …”

On repealing Obamacare: “‘You guys have been promising for a long time—longer than I’ve been in politics, really. But I promised it, too, so we need no mistakes.’ ‘We’re going to get it done, Mr. President,’ Ryan said confidently … ‘We’re going to have to keep everyone together, because we’re going to be doing this without any Democratic votes,’ McConnell said. ‘Really?’ Trump replied, suddenly intrigued … ‘What about Joe Manchin?’ Trump asked, as if McConnell must have forgotten him …

“Absolutely not, Mr. President,” McConnell said in a tone that seemed designed to end the debate … ‘I have a wonderful relationship with him; I think he might come around.’ McConnell didn’t flinch. He stayed sitting upright in his brown leather chair, elbows on the armrests and hands clasped underneath his chin. ‘Mr. President,’ he began, ‘he’ll never be with us when it counts. I’ve seen this time and time again. We’re going to do everything in our power to beat him when he comes up for reelection in 2018.’

Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Jan. 5, 2018, at Camp David. Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian

“Trump seemed taken aback … He didn’t seem angry, just befuddled. ‘Well, Joe’s been a friend of mine, so we’ll have to see … Do we have to go after him like that?’ ‘Absolutely, Mr. President,’ McConnell shot back without a moment’s hesitation. ‘We’re going to crush him like a grape.’ Outside the walls of the Roosevelt Room, the conventional wisdom was that men like McConnell would temper Trump’s aggressive impulses. Just the opposite was happening right now … ‘This guy’s mean as a snake!’ he said, pointing at McConnell and looking around the room. The entire group burst out laughing.” (Emphasis added.) 

On working with Speaker Ryan: “The President’s mind had started to wander … He would occasionally glance up toward the Outer Oval, or out at the Rose Garden, or over at me sitting inconspicuously along the wall. I felt like I could see what he was thinking. Jeez, can you believe this guy?

“Finally, in mid-Ryan-ramble, Trump set down his drink, placed his palms on the desk, and slowly stood up. His movements were leisurely enough that Ryan just continued on, turning his head toward Pence as he spoke. But it quickly became apparent that Trump was not just stretching his legs or repositioning himself. Instead, and without a word, he walked right past me, out of the Oval, and down the hall toward his private study … I could hear that the President had turned on the giant flat-screen TV in his private dining room. He’d had enough of the ramble. He had agreed with the approach. He’d heard it all before. What was the point? …

“Pence finally stood up and asked the Speaker to give him a second … It wasn’t long, maybe ninety seconds or so, before Trump, looking somewhat rejuvenated, and Pence returned to the Oval. The President sat back down. With no explanation, apology, or acknowledgment of what had just happened, he resumed the conversation as if he hadn’t just walked out of the room to catch up on TV. What a power move.” (Emphasis added.)

More smoke: “Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, Chief of Staff of the National Security Council, assembled a group of approximately two dozen newly minted special ops soldiers in the Roosevelt Room … ‘They say the hardest decision a president makes is war and peace,’ Trump told the group. ‘I prefer peace, right? We prefer peace. But sometimes you have to be tough. We had to be tough just recently. I said, ‘I wish I could wait, I just got here,’ you know? But you can’t wait. You’ve got to be tough, and I know you all understand that. You signed up for the hard job. Your President knows that. The whole country knows that. They may not know your names, but they know you’re out there and you’re protecting them. So I respect you and I respect what you do.’ … He told them they’d never have to wonder, no matter to what murky corner of the earth they were deployed, whether their commander in chief had their back. ‘I’m with you,’ he said. 

Then Sims tells us: “Thinking about it still gives me chills.” (Emphasis added.)

Thanks to Dad who offered lower rent to a Queens podiatrist who found imaginary bone spurs, he dodged the draft, demeaned Senator McCain for being captured, disrespected a Gold Star family, didn’t know the name of the soldier who died in combat when he called to offer condolences to his wife, mocked Robert Mueller, a Marine war hero in Vietnam, and somehow that performance gives Sims the chills. Really?

There’s Jeff Sessions, Sims’ Alabama friend/mentor, who lied to Congress about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. “Such a meeting was so routine that countless Democratic senators had met with him, too … But none of that stopped Democrats from acting like they had caught Sessions inside the Kremlin with Putin himself, crafting a master plan to overthrow the United States government. 

“Jeff Sessions is a Boy Scout—figuratively and literally … The Senators with whom he had served for years—including the Democrats—knew the kind of person he was. They had dined with him, traveled the world with him on congressional-delegation trips, saw the way he loved his wife, children, and grandchildren, and knew him to be a man of impeccable honor and integrity. And yet they still sought to destroy him. And members of the press—many of whom would scoff off the record about the absurdity of accusing Sessions of conspiring to rig an election—were complicit in the entire charade. I remain disgusted by it all.” (Emphasis mine.)

The kind of boy scout who, without consulting the experts at the U.S. Public Health Service, implemented a zero-tolerance policy that forcibly separated families legally attempting to seek asylum, hoping to deter other families from looking to the United States to escape gang violence and abuse.

In “The Threat,” Andrew McCabe tells us: “I observed many things about Attorney General Sessions that gave me pause. I observed him to have trouble focusing, particularly when topics of conversation strayed from a small number of issues, none of which directly concerned national security. He seemed to lack basic knowledge about the jurisdictions of various arms of federal law enforcement. He also seemed to have little interest in the expertise and arguments that others brought to the meetings, or in some long-standing commitments by Justice and the Bureau. I observed his staff to be somewhat afraid of him—reluctant to voice opinions because they did not want to make him angry.

“His major interest in any given topic tended to be the immigration angle, even when there was no immigration angle … Almost invariably, he asked the same question about the suspect: Where’s he from? The vast majority of the suspects are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. If we would answer his question, Sir, he’s a U.S. citizen, he was born here, Sessions would respond, Where are his parents from? … Sessions wanted answers to questions like these: How many counterterrorism cases did we have against immigrants? How many people from outside the country had we arrested?”

As for Russia, while Spicer didn’t know how to defend the president for firing Comey, the FBI director. Mr. Sims did: “I sent out an email blast with the all-caps subject line: COMMUNICATIONS BRIEFING—COMEY EDITION [with] the termination recommendations from both Sessions and Rosenstein, and the actual termination letter from Trump to Comey. And I added … ‘After receiving recommendations from Mr. Rosenstein and Attorney General Sessions, President Trump concluded that the only way to restore confidence in the FBI—the crown jewel of American law enforcement—was to end Director Comey’s tenure atop the Bureau, effective immediately.’ And ‘The great men and women of the FBI deserve a leader in whom they have confidence—it is time for a fresh start. The search for a new director will begin immediately.’ …

“‘Was it the right move?’ the President asked me … First of all, I’m not an attorney and I couldn’t even begin to fathom the legal ramifications of the decision. Secondly, I believed that accusations of so called ‘collusion’ between Trump and Russia were farcical. I didn’t doubt for a second that Russia sowed division and sought to influence the election through various disinformation campaigns. But we couldn’t collude with ourselves, working in offices right next to each other, much less with a foreign government … Third, Comey had made a series of high-profile mistakes in key moments … So, although I thought the optics were bad, I could also see legitimate cause to remove him … I also happened to agree with Trump’s assessment of Comey as a ‘showboater.’ Finally, the decision was already made; Comey had been fired. What good would it do for me to raise doubts after the fact?

“So I told the President, ‘I feel the same way about this decision that I did about most decisions during the campaign—trust your instincts. If your gut said he had to go, then you did the right thing.’ … I knew that Trump took great pride in his political instincts, so he would appreciate the sentiment. As we boarded the elevator on the ground floor of the residence, Johnny McEntee was more explicit. ‘It was the right thing to do,’ he said emphatically. “Comey’s a piece of s—’ The President looked at me with a grin, nodded at McEntee, and concluded, ‘He’s right about that, believe me. I did the country a favor by getting rid of this guy.’”

There’s Mike Dubke, Melania, and the Easter Bunny. Politico’s story about Dubke, who took over communications from Sean Spicer revealed: “Dubke had assembled a large group strategy session on how to best promote the President’s first hundred days in office. He kicked off the discussion of how to package Trump’s tumultuous first 100 days by pitching the need for a ‘rebranding’ to get Trump back on track … Dubke, who did not work on the campaign, told the assembled aides that international affairs would present a messaging challenge because the president lacks a coherent foreign policy. … ‘There is no Trump doctrine,’ Dubke declared.’”

Who knew Melania read Politico? “I know there are many outside the White House who have become invested in the mythology, often backed by anonymous sources, that Melania secretly hated her husband, or was planning to divorce him, or had some business arrangement that kept them together. As with every marriage, they had their good days and bad days, often centering around times when accusations of past infidelity were in the news. But from what I saw she never wavered in her support, and she was serious about her official role as First Lady and her self-appointed role as her husband’s fiercest protector.” (Emphasis added) How many bad days for how many wives include Playboy Bunnies and porn stars?

Easter 2018 at the White House: Melania Trump, Donald Trump and the Easter Bunny

“She obsessed over every detail of White House social events, such as the annual White House Easter Egg Roll … On the day of the event, everything was in place—the staging, the decorations, the eighteen thousand colored Easter eggs, the band … Mrs. Trump was wearing an elegant light pink silk dress. She looked at ease, as if the whole thing had come together without much effort. She and Barron were preparing to accompany the President out onto the balcony with a junior staffer dressed in an Easter Bunny costume when Melania froze. Her lips formed into a judgmental frown. ‘That needs to be taken off,’ she said.

“She wasn’t talking to Barron or her husband, but the Easter Bunny. He was wearing a light blue vest, and for whatever reason the color or the fabric intruded on the First Lady’s milieu. With seconds to go, staffers jumped into action, scrambling to undress the white bunny in full view of a slightly perplexed President. ‘That’s much better,’ she said. Now everything was perfect. And they walked together out of the Blue Room and onto the balcony to be received by the crowd below …” Then she went after Dubke …

So many knives, so many backs: “Reince and Sean … had botched nearly every major communications rollout or crisis management situation. And they had somehow made working at the White House—the honor of a lifetime—a miserable experience that left many of us dreading the walk into work each morning.

“‘Mr. President … I remember what it felt like the night the Access Hollywood video came out. We all do … Everyone counted us out. But the next morning, I woke up at six A.M. and came into the Tower and went to work. We all did, except for a couple of people. One of them is named Michael Short. He quit even before Access Hollywood, and I didn’t see him again for months. Until we showed up on our first day and he was here, too, because he’s Sean and Reince’s guy and they decided to bring him into your White House.’

“‘Wait,’ the President interjected. ‘He quit on us, but they still brought him here?’ … ‘Yes, sir,’ I replied. ‘And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.’ … ‘Give me their names,’ the President intoned … I was sitting there with the President of the United States basically compiling an enemies list—but these enemies were within his own administration …

“‘Is there anyone in particular you’re interested in?’ I asked. ‘Well, first, tell me who are our people from the campaign.’ I began listing campaign staffers from the fourteenth floor of Trump Tower, with whom I had spent countless hours in the trenches … As I continued to tick off names, Trump would occasionally interject to ask about other members of the staff. ‘Hope Hicks?’ ‘She’s the best—rock solid.’

“‘What about Keith?” he asked, both of us clearly aware of Keith standing right there. I smiled. ‘Everyone knows Keith is with you one hundred percent.’ ‘What about Mike Dubke?’ … ‘He has absolutely no idea what he’s doing,” I told the President. ‘And Sean?’ ‘At this point he spends more time fighting for his job than he does fighting for you …’ ‘What about Reince? … I want to know exactly what you think.’ ‘Mr. President … He’s got a tough job and has to deal with a lot more than just problems with the communications team.’ The President shifted in his chair. He didn’t care to sit through people hedging before stating their opinions. Just say it.

“‘But I do remember when he told you that you should quit the campaign and allow Pence to take over,’ … I don’t have any reason to believe that Reince is a bad guy, but I do have reason to believe he’s not a fighter, and he’s filled your White House with an entire team of people who either aren’t fighters or aren’t loyal to you—or both. That’s a recipe for disaster …” 

“By that point the President was indignant. ‘Keith, I want these people out of here,’ he said … The President stood up and shook my hand. ‘I’m going to take care of this,’ he said. ‘We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders.’ 

Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mike Dubke made it three months. Reince Priebus was left on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews. Sean Spicer was forced out after six months. Oh, and of course, having exhausted his supply of knives—for the moment at least—Sims paused for a second of self-reflection: “I felt relieved, but I also felt—I don’t know—something very close to guilt. I had told the President the truth. I wasn’t making up lies about anyone. He had asked and I had given my sincere opinions. But in doing this I sensed that I was losing myself in what I had rationalized as a necessary struggle for survival.”

“I missed Alabama. I missed my friends from church. The ones who couldn’t care less about politics or where I worked. The ones who would come over to our house every Tuesday night for Bible study. We still went to church faithfully every Sunday. But I had lost the support of a community that made sure I wasn’t finding my identity in a job. After all, to paraphrase the Gospel of Mark, What does it profit a man to survive in Trump’s White House but forfeit his soul?”

Nobody said Making America Great would be easy. 

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Photo: Samuel Corum/New York Times

Sims reveals again and again how he, and his band of Trumpian brothers and sisters, chose cultish loyalty over modesty, charity, not to mention a modicum of morality. All the while as Trump turned on them all. Banishing one coffee boy after the other, dismissing, or forcing to flee folks like Flynn, Manafort, Priebus, Bannon, Spicer, H. R. McMaster, James Mattis, John Kelly, Gary Cohn, Andrew McCabe, Rex Tillerson, James Comey, one after another—some with a curt, “well, I didn’t really know him,” or “he came on to the campaign after we …” or “we disagreed on things …”

As for Sims, he made several mistakes. He endorsed Scaramucci, and Kelly, whose job it was to control access to the President, became increasingly suspicious of the communications aide who popped in on meetings he had no business attending. Like so many before him, it wasn’t log before his services were no longer required on the Trump Train. But Sims was on board long enough to sell his book.

His last lesson: “I had let my personal relationship with the President blind me to the one unfailing truth that applied to anyone with whom he didn’t share a last name: we were all disposable.” 



“Mark Burnett, The Man Who Created Trump, Is Not a Rat”
Clive Irving, Aug. 25, 2018, The Daily Beast

Washington Post Fact Checking

“Andrew McCabe’s disturbing account of working for Sessions and Trump”
Greg Miller, Feb. 14, 2019, Washington Post

“Andrew McCabe Couldn’t Believe the Things Trump Said About Putin”
Natasha Bertrand, Feb. 19, 2019, The Atlantic


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