Former President Donald Trump’s top general feared he would authorize a strike on Iran as his presidency ended. His intelligence chief wondered what Russia had on him. A billionaire friend convinced him to try to buy Greenland. Half a dozen senior officials considered resigning en masse.
Even his wife, first lady Melania Trump, was “disturbed by the coronavirus and convinced Trump was screwing up,” according to a forthcoming book from New York Times White House Correspondent Peter Baker, New Yorker Staff Writer and CNN Global Affairs Analyst Susan. Glaser is scheduled to publish on Tuesday.
In a phone call with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has maintained ties to the White House despite occasional criticism of Trump, Melania Trump asked for help in persuading her husband to take the pandemic more seriously.
“You blow this,” the authors wrote, remembering her telling her husband. It’s going to be really bad, and you have to take it more seriously than you take it. He just fired her. She remembered saying, ‘You worry too much.’ ‘Forget it.’ ”
The sharp instability that has overshadowed Trump’s four-year tenure in the White House has many of his top advisers worried about the fate of the country. The fluctuations are revealed in new detail in “The Barrier: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.” The book’s reporting included two interviews with the former president at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Baker and Glaser wrote that many known concerns about the Trump presidency were in fact closer to reality than previously reported, leading to widespread attempts among those who worked with him to avert disaster.
The findings could also predict what presidency Trump might oversee if he returns to the White House in 2025. Trump associates have told CNN that he may announce a presidential bid after the November midterm elections. But, as Trump told Baker and Glasser, he will not invite former Vice President Mike Pence to join his ticket after Pence refused to interfere in the ratification of the 2020 election.
“It would be totally inappropriate,” Trump said. “Mike committed suicide politically by not getting votes he knew were wrong.”
The book describes the deep concerns among Trump’s national security team, led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and others, that the then president might spark conflict with Iran in the final days of his presidency or that he might bog down on nuclear weapons. The war with North Korea.
The report’s authors reported that a US administration official told Trump before the 2020 election that if he lost, he should strike Iran’s nuclear program. Millie at the time told his crew that it was ‘What are these guys talking about?’ “A moment,” they write. “Now, it seemed frighteningly possible.”
Tensions with Iran even penetrated the walls of Mar-a-Lago. Trump told guests at a holiday cocktail party in 2020 that he was leaving early to fly back to Washington over concerns that Iran might try to assassinate him in retaliation for the United States’ killing of the country’s military general a year ago.
Concerns about Trump’s behavior on the world stage began as soon as he took office. More than a passing grudge, Trump’s desire to pull the United States out of NATO was in fact a sustained effort that was “far more serious than people realize,” a senior White House official said — an outcome that could have dramatically changed the current war in Ukraine.
After a 2018 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland — after which Trump sided with Putin over US intelligence agencies that decided Russia had tried to interfere in the 2016 election — the top US intelligence official remained questioning Trump’s true motives.
“I was never able to come to a conclusion. It raised the question in everyone’s mind: What is Putin holding on him that makes him do something that undermines his credibility?” According to the book, Dan Coats, then Director of National Intelligence, reflected on his colleagues afterwards.
And the months-long clinging to the Greenland purchase from Denmark went much deeper than previously revealed, drawing inspiration in the early days of Trump’s presidency from a wealthy friend from New York, cosmetics heir Ron Lauder.
I said, ‘Why don’t we have it?’ You can look at the map. I’m a real estate developer, I look around the corner, and I say, “I have to get this shop for the building I’m building,” etc. The book.
Lauder suggested to then-National Security Adviser John Bolton that he act as a “back channel” for the Danish government. Instead, top National Security Council aides have been engaged for months in secret talks with Denmark’s ambassador to the United States about Greenland.
Ultimately, however, the public revelation of Trump’s plans to buy the island sparked outrage in both Greenland and Denmark, stymiing any effort to bolster the United States’ role in an increasingly strategic region. Trump called the Danish president “obnoxious” for rejecting his idea and canceled a trip to Copenhagen.
Trump has enjoyed cordial relations with other world leaders, but he has often imposed a bit of anarchy.
Baker and Glaser reported that Trump suddenly phoned Jordan’s King Abdullah II to tell him he would “give you the West Bank,” prompting the king to tell a friend he thought he was having a heart attack.
“I couldn’t breathe. He said.
While Trump liked to tout that then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who was assassinated in July – had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, Trump had made the request openly to Abe during dinner in New York.
“The president asked Abe at dinner to nominate him,” one of Trump’s top national security officials says in the book.
Baker and Glaser describe previously unreported plans by members of the Trump cabinet to resign en masse amid the chaos, only to remain in office out of fear who might choose to replace them.
In encrypted text messages, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told one of her top aides that five top Trump administration officials — including the secretaries of defense, education and the interior — were on the verge of resigning amid a particularly chaotic period before the 2018 midterm.
“Well, for the first time I feel fear for the country. I wrote in the letters.
Trump’s demands for his team included outlandish requests such as the annulment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after it blocked one of his immigration policies.
According to the book, he told Nielsen, “Let’s just cancel it.” He told Nielsen that if such a move required legislation, “draft a bill ‘to get rid of the king’s judges’ and send it to Congress as soon as possible.”
When it comes to responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was his most trusted advisors who encouraged him to do more, especially in the early days when Trump seemed indifferent about the severity of the crisis.