Book by former staff member describes a White House 'out of control'

Feuds and chaos among the White House staff occupy much of the book.
Feuds and chaos among the White House staff occupy much of the book.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - John Kelly, as White House chief of staff, presented himself as the man leading a charge of "country first, president second". The attorney general suggested administering lie-detector tests to the small group of people with access to transcripts of the president's calls with foreign leaders. And President Donald Trump sought a list of "enemies" working in the White House communications shop.

Those are some of the portraits of the Trump White House sprinkled throughout Team Of Vipers, an inside account of working there written by Cliff Sims, a former communications staff member and Trump loyalist who worked on the campaign.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the book.

The book, which will be published at the end of January, describes a nest of back-stabbing and duplicity within the West Wing, a narrative by now familiar from other books and media reports.

But Sims, who left last year after clashing with Kelly, is one of the few people to attach his name to descriptions of goings-on at the White House that are not always flattering to Trump, and many of the scenes are not particularly flattering to anyone, including himself.

"It's impossible to deny how absolutely out of control the White House staff - again, myself included - was at times," Sims writes.

The president often comes across as unfamiliar with Washington and stymied by aspects of the job.

According to Sims, Trump was unsettled by the condition of the West Wing, which he found dilapidated. He delighted in giving tours of the Oval Office, down to the private bathroom and the small study he converted to a dining room with a television on the wall. He explained in detail to aides how important the chyrons - the all-caps text at the bottom of the screen - on television are, because so many people consume programmes muted.

The book does not always present the president in a negative light, describing an emotional reaction by Trump to the first death of a service member during his presidency.

Its descriptions of Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, defy the public perception of their marriage. Sims paints Melania Trump as protective of her husband as it related to his staff. In the book, he recalls the First Lady calling the president to complain about a Politico article about his first communications director and suggesting that Trump needed to try to get rid of him.

But Sims also describes painfully awkward interactions with Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the House, during efforts to repeal the health care law and after the Charlottesville white nationalist riots.

During the legislative discussions, according to Sims, Trump abruptly left the Oval Office during a meeting with Ryan to watch television in the adjacent dining room, before returning some moments later.

When Ryan expressed displeasure with the president's statements after the Charlottesville riots, Trump called Ryan, Sims writes.

"I remember being in Wisconsin and your own people were booing you," Trump yelled, recalling Ryan distancing himself from Trump after the infamous Access Hollywood tape emerged in October 2016. "You were out there dying like a dog, Paul. Like a dog!"

Feuds and chaos among the staff occupy much of the book.

For instance, Sims describes his part in propelling Anthony Scaramucci to the role of communications director, suggesting in internal conversations that it was a wise idea.

Scaramucci ended up getting fired after 11 days, but not before he served the purpose that Trump's family had hoped he would, Sims writes. Scaramucci helped accelerate the end of the tenure of Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff.

In another scene, Sims describes the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, explaining to Trump that little could be done about a journalist he did not care for when he asked why the person could not be "suspended".

In one scene, Sims describes Trump's top policy adviser, Stephen Miller, openly undermining his onetime ally, Steve Bannon, as Miller appealed to Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Miller described Bannon as "leaking" to reporters.

Some White House officials have expressed concern about the book, as they have with others that have been written. Those officials have suggested that Sims either was in meetings he did not belong in - a claim he addresses in the book - or was not in as many as he claimed to be.

But like other accounts of the Trump White House written by former staff members or journalists, the narrative and anecdotes support much of the real-time reporting about the administration.

Sims also writes that leaks by various staff members have been in service of creating specific portraits of events or undermining rivals. They have not always portrayed the full truth, he suggests.