The Washington Post / September 14, 2022
President Trump once offered what he considered “a great deal” to Jordan’s King Abdullah II: control of the West Bank, whose Palestinian population long sought to topple the monarchy.
“I thought I was having a heart attack,” Abdullah II recalled to an American friend in 2018, according to a new book on the Trump presidency being published next week. “I couldn’t breathe. I was bent doubled-over.”
The unreported offer to Abdullah is among the startling new details about Trump’s chaotic presidency in the book “The Divider: Trump in the White House 2017-2021” by Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, and Susan Glasser, staff writer for The New Yorker.
The book, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is the latest in a long-running series of deeply reported behind-the-scenes accounts featuring, or written by, Trump administration insiders, with some claiming that they tried to curb the 45th president’s worst instincts.
Baker and Glasser write that their book is based on reporting they did for their respective outlets, “as well as about 300 original interviews conducted exclusively for this book.” They added: “We obtained private diaries, memos, contemporaneous notes, emails, text messages, and other documents that shed new light on Trump’s time in office.”
The husband-and-wife journalists also conducted two interviews with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
One theme that emerges in the book is the growth of Trump’s fixation with attacking his perceived enemies and an increasing concern among top officials in his administration that they must prevent Trump’s lawlessness and erratic demands.
Several top officials “were on the verge of quitting en masse,” according to the book, citing an October 2018 message Kirstjen Nielsen, then the homeland security secretary, wrote to a top aide over the encrypted app Signal.
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “all” wanted to quit, Nielsen wrote, according to the book.
At the time, Trump was fearful of losing control of Congress and eager to appeal to his base of supporters. Fox News was focusing attention on a caravan of migrants moving through Central America toward the southern border — referring to it as an “invasion,” the book notes. Trump, in response, urged Nielsen to “harden the border even to the point of pushing her to take action she had no authority to take,” according to the book.
Nielsen and Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, even agreed that they would both resign in protest if Trump resumed family separations at the southern border. In fall 2018, she wrote to an aide, “The insanity has been loosed.”
Those officials ultimately left the administration, but not in unison over one single issue.
“The people who were most fearful of his reign were those in the room with him,” Baker and Glasser write.
In November 2018, Democrats swept to power in the House, winning the majority.
While he was in the White House, Trump also tried to use his office to punish — demands his own aides saw as illegal and tried to stop, according to the book.
Trump not only tried to block a merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and the telecommunication giant AT&T, driven by his anger over the network’s coverage of him, but also tried to prevent a government contract from going to a company owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. (Bezos owns The Washington Post). “He’d do anything to get Bezos,” a senior Trump official told the book’s authors.
Trump also targeted former intelligence officials James R. Clapper Jr. and John Brennan, demanding more than 50 times that they be stripped of security clearances. And when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit blocked one of his policies, Trump told Nielsen he wanted to eliminate the court altogether. “Let’s just cancel it,” he told her, according to the book, adding that they should “get rid” of the judges and using a profanity.
Trump ordered that legislation be drafted and sent to Congress as soon as possible, the authors write. Nielsen, according to the book, “did what she and so many other administration officials did when Trump issued nonsensical demands — ignored it and hoped it would go away.”
Trump, who is eyeing another presidential run, also ruled out picking his former vice president Mike Pence as his running mate, telling Baker and Glasser, “It would be totally inappropriate.”
Pence’s refusal to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, despite Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged, opened a fissure between the two men. Trump, seething over what he considered a betrayal by Pence, told the authors, “Mike committed political suicide by not taking votes that he knew were wrong.”
On Jan. 6, 2021, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes for Biden, several of the president’s supporters chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
The book also quotes Trump’s wife, Melania, expressing deep concerns over her husband’s handling of the coronavirus. She spoke directly to Trump in the early days of the pandemic and, according to the book, recounted that conversation later to Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), from whom the president had routinely sought advice.
“You’re blowing this,” she recalled telling her husband, according to the book. “This is serious. It’s going to be really bad, and you need to take it more seriously than you’re taking it,” she said, according to Baker and Glasser. Trump “just dismissed her,” they write. “You worry too much,” Melania recalled Trump telling her, according to the book.
The offer to Abdullah of the West Bank — which is bordered by Israel and Jordan, and which Trump had no control over — came in January 2018. Trump thought he would be doing the Jordanian king a favor, not realizing that it would destabilize his country, according to the book.
A previous excerpt of the book published in August in the New Yorker described how Trump once told a top adviser that he wanted “totally loyal” generals like the ones who had served Adolf Hitler — unaware that some of Hitler’s generals had tried to assassinate the Nazi leader several times.
Trump complained to Kelly, then his chief of staff and a retired Marine Corps general, “why can’t you be like the German generals?” When Kelly asked which generals he meant, Trump replied:
“The German generals in World War II.”
“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said, according to the book.
Trump didn’t believe him, the book says. “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,” Trump insisted.
Azi Paybarah joined The Washington Post in 2022