He knew it was coming. But former President Donald Trump still was not pleased.
He had read a new book excerpt—one of many about his presidency in the last few weeks—that described him telling his former chief of staff John Kelly that Hitler, for all his horrors, “did a lot of good things.”
The account came from Michael Bender’s work, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost.” And for weeks, the former president had anxiously anticipated it surfacing. When Bender first approached him about it in the spring, Trump, through a spokesperson, told the Wall Street Journal reporter the anecdote was “defamatory.” Bender said he interpreted it as a legal threat; but like many such threats from Trump, nothing came of it.
Now it was in print. Reading the line for the first time, Trump denied it before engaging in speculation about the story’s origins. “But that doesn’t mean John Kelly didn’t tell Mike Bender that,” he said, according to an adviser. “That doesn’t mean other people didn’t say it.”
The guessing game that Bender’s book sparked added to the schisms and points of tensions that have erupted in Trump’s orbit in recent weeks. As the deluge of Trump-related books has hit the shelves, the already tenuous alliances that bind aides and associates of the former president have been strained further. Ex-aides have publicly attacked one-time allies while others have sought distance from a presidency they once dutifully served.
Fear is mounting, too, about the tea-spilling to come. In particular, Trump officials are anxiously awaiting the books set to be published by actual colleagues, chief among them counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner, who plan to write their own accounts of the Trump presidency.
“I think it’s fraught right now as to who is telling the truth,” said a Trump adviser. “They’re all trying to go back in time and curate their own images.”
Privately, former administration officials and top campaign aides have shared concerns about Conway’s upcoming tell-all in particular. The ex-president’s loyal former counselor is expected to give a hold-no-punches account of her time in the White House and those she worked alongside. Conway herself sat down with Trump for her book at Mar-a-Lago.
Every end to a presidency leads to a sprint by the reporters who covered it to tell the definitive history in the form of a retrospective book. But the rush of work related to Trump seems like an avalanche compared to past administrations. In the past four years, there have been more than a thousand unique titles about Trump, according to an analysis shared with The New York Times by NPD BookScan in August 2020. But the most high-profile White House reporters are expected to release their own offerings in the coming year. Already, books about Trump released this week have soared to the top of bestseller lists.
The sheer saturation has forced the authors to release a steady stream of scooplets from their books in advance of publication. And though the Trump White House was known, in real time, for its leaks, the post-mortems have exposed infighting that was previously unknown.
“I know that there are still a lot of major excerpts that will come out in the future,” said a former senior administration official who participated in multiple book interviews. “The most interesting thing to me is how much the big scoops actually hold until publication.”
Eager to put his own positive spin on the books, Trump agreed to sit down with a parade of reporters at Mar-a-Lago. That included interviews with Bender, author Michael Wolff, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, and Jeremy Peters, among others.
According to an adviser, Trump, who is sensitive to how history will remember him, “said that I think if you can improve the book 3, 5, 10 percent [by participating], that matters.” But the publications have, instead, further muddied his reemergence on the political scene. After months of keeping a relatively low profile, the former president has hit the trail and done news interviews with friendly outlets in which he not only continued to falsely claim the election was stolen from him, but praised the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol at his encouragement on Jan. 6.
Those who know Trump suspect that he is content to be at the center of conversation, no matter how unflattering the conversation may be, under the mantra that all press is good press.
“He thinks that, ‘Oh, they’re talking about me, me, me,’” said an adviser.
And yet, if Trump is happy with the new books about him, he hasn’t always shown it. In a statement released last week, the former president said sitting down with the authors was a “total waste of time” and insisted that “so many” of the stories were “pure fiction.”
He’s not the only one who has been displeased with the final product. Wolff’s book, “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency,” set off fireworks after it revealed that Republican National Committee chief counsel Justin Riemer said Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s former campaign attorney Jenna Ellis election fraud arguments were a “joke.”
Since then, Ellis has demanded that RNC chair Ronna McDaniel resign and declared she is quitting the Republican Party for not doing enough to support Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results.
“It’s not surprising that some Republicans are too spineless to stand for the truth,” Ellis told POLITICO. “I don’t care what they think. Anyone siding with Ronna is simply outing themselves as the self-serving politicians that have continued to undermine Trump and America for years.”
People close to Trump dismissed Ellis’ proclamations as a transparent attempt to stay relevant post-election. And through a spokesperson, both the RNC and Reimer defended their work on election integrity. “I will say publicly now what I then said privately: I take issue with individuals who brought lawsuits that did not serve President Trump well and did not give him the best chance in court,” Reimer said.
Trump himself, meanwhile, released a flurry of attacks on his former Attorney General William Barr after the publication of a portion of Karl’s book in the Atlantic. In the excerpt, Barr is quoted as saying he did not believe Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud and felt it was his duty to share his views publicly.
“If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it,” Barr told Karl. “But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”
More recently, Trump publicly bristled at another excerpt from Bender’s book, in which it was reported that he and former Vice President Mike Pence got into a heated argument over the hiring of political adviser Corey Lewandowski. Bender stood by his reporting, which he said came from multiple sources.
As the excerpts and subsequent recriminations have piled up, people in Trump’s inner circle have criticized Trump’s decision to cooperate with the book authors. Some recalled Trump giving access to Wolff and veteran reporter Bob Woodward during his time as president, only to then erupt over the material that they ended up publishing.
“I understand the rationale, but it was a strategic mistake to sit down with these folks — you’re giving them credibility. It’s hard to say, ‘I sat down with them and they got it wrong.’ So they’ve created a sense of credibility that makes it harder to critique,” said Sean Spicer, Trump’s former press secretary turned Newsmax host.
Perhaps sensing that it was a mistake to give certain authors content, Trump has, in recent days, taken to promoting the work of MAGA allies. On Wednesday, he issued two glowing reviews about books by friends Mark Levin and Jesse Watters. The Watters one was so glowing that it led to speculation about who wrote the review, only for internet sleuths to point out the book’s own publisher actually wrote the review. Trump had ripped it straight from the promotional web page.