From showtunes to Putin: here’s what the Grisham book tells us about the Trump era (assuming it’s true)

Tell-all book from former White House press secretary has dominated headlines as much as any other post-Trump memoir

Andrew Naughtie
Thursday 30 September 2021 18:55
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Stephanie Grisham’s book has cast a deeply unflattering light on Donald Trump’s behaviour with Vladimir Putin

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Stephanie Grisham was the least publicly conspicuous of all Donald Trump’s press secretaries, declining to hold a single White House press briefing during her nine-month tenure in 2019-20. When she left the job to become chief of staff to Melania Trump, her public profile sank even further.

But now, eight months after the Trump administration ended, she is suddenly a household name. Her tell-all book about her time in the White House, I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw In The White House, has caused a furore before even appearing in print, with early extracts painting a picture of the 45th president that’s by turns grisly and bizarre.

Ms Grisham has seemingly nothing to say in her former boss’s defence, and there are naturally plenty of questions being asked about why did not speak up earlier. But for now, it’s time to take stock of what she’s claimed so far.

Trump’s psychology

One of the most left-field claims in Ms Grisham’s book is that an ex-boyfriend of hers on the Trump staff was assigned to play the president his favourite show tunes – among them “Memory”, from Cats – to bring him back from the brink of what the author describes as a “terrifying” rage. Dubbed the “music man”, the aide is thought to be Max Miller, who is now a congressional candidate in Ohio.

Ms Grisham generally paints a picture of Mr Trump as psychologically volatile and insecure, alluding not just to his rage but his vanity. She claims that he tended to his own hair with “a huge pair of scissors that could probably cut a ribbon at an opening of one of his properties” – and that he once called her from Air Force One to deny Stormy Daniels’s description of his penis as looking like Toad, the anthropomorphic mushroom character from Mario Kart.

That paranoid streak also extends from the personal to the political, Ms Grisham writes, with Mr Trump apparently refusing anaesthesia during a colonoscopy so as to avoid handing over political control to his vice president, Mike Pence.

And on the matter of message control and image management, Ms Grisham claims that the president told her flat out to issue a blanket denial of E. Jean Carroll’s claim that he raped her in a department store in the 1990s. “You just deny it,” she recalls him saying. “That’s what you do in every situation. Right, Stephanie? You just deny it.”

The family

Ms Grisham doesn’t spare the other Trumps in her account. As she tells it, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner regarded themselves as members of “the royal family of the United States” – so much so that they tried to barge in on a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, which would have been a major breach of royal protocol. (They were ultimately unable to fit on the helicopter.)

Mr Kushner, she writes, was sometimes known as the “slim reaper” because of his propensity for inserting himself into other people’s projects, damaging and derailing them, and then leaving the original manager to take the blame.

However, it is Melania Trump whose portrait has gotten the most press attention, unsurprisingly given that Ms Grisham worked directly for her in the administration’s last phase. The first lady was reportedly berated by the president himself after she wore a jacket reading “I really don’t care, do u?” on a visit to a migrant detention facility. She was apparently “unleashed” by the myriad reports of her husband’s infidelity and hush money payments to former lovers, and made sure she appeared on the arm of an attractive military aide in public.

Ms Trump’s political disengagement also comes in for criticism. She apparently went to bed before the results of the 2020 election began to trickle in, only waking up to appear on stage with her husband at 2:30am. The first lady also apparently refused an opportunity to denounce the attack on the Capitol on 6 January, bluntly refusing to put her name to a tweet condemning lawlessness and violence.

The wider world

The most alarming headlines generated from Ms Grisham’s book focus on reports of Mr Trump’s behaviour towards Vladimir Putin, specifically at the 2019 G20 summit in Osaka.

According to Ms Grisham, the president explicitly told his Russian counterpart that he was only “acting tough” for the cameras, facetiously wagging his finger and saying “don’t interfere in our elections”. The Russian president, she says, appeared to be trying to throw Mr Trump off by bringing along an attractive female translator – and by faking a cough in an attempt to trigger Mr Trump’s famous germaphobia.

Mr Trump also apparently spent a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussing almost anything other than politics – as one Washington Post reporter put it, focusing on “how gallbladders work, the many deadly creatures of Australia and why rich guys love space”.

And on a more sinister note, he also came back from a visit from North Korea determined to see the press thrown out of the White House altogether. Not that Ms Grisham was upset about not having to throw herself on the mercy of the briefing room.

“I knew that sooner or later,” she writes, “the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic.”

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