By Jeremy Herb, CNN
Then-President Donald Trump nearly fired his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner from the White House via tweet, according to a new book from New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.
Trump raised the prospect of firing Ivanka Trump and Kushner, who were both senior White House aides, during meetings with then-chief of staff John Kelly and then-White House counsel Don McGahn, Haberman writes. At one point, he was about to tweet that his daughter and son-in-law were leaving the White House — but he was stopped by Kelly, who told Trump he had to speak with them directly first.
Trump never had such a conversation — one of numerous instances where he avoided interpersonal conflict — and Ivanka Trump and Kushner remained at the White House throughout Trump’s presidency. Still, Trump often diminished Kushner, mocking him as effete, Haberman writes.
“He sounds like a child,” Trump said after Kushner spoke publicly in 2017 following his congressional testimony, according to the book.
In “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America,” Haberman chronicles the chaos of the Trump White House, with new details about how Trump resisted denouncing White supremacists and made light of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s declining health before her death in 2020 gave him a third justice on the Supreme Court.
But Haberman’s book, which was obtained by CNN ahead of its release on Tuesday, goes beyond the trials and tribulations of the Trump administration to document how Trump’s initial rise in the New York real estate and political world of the 1970s and ’80s permanently shaped his worldview — and by extension, his presidency.
“To fully reckon with Donald Trump, his presidency and political future, people need to know where he comes from,” writes Haberman, a CNN political analyst.
The book is littered with examples dating back decades that document Trump’s obsession with looks, his fixation on racial issues, his gravitation toward strongmen and his willingness to shift his beliefs to fit the moment. Trump tried to recreate the country to mimic New York’s five boroughs, Haberman writes, imagining a presidency that functioned like he was one of the city’s powerful Democratic Party bosses in control of everything.
The aides and advisers who spoke to Haberman for the book — she writes that she interviewed more than 250 people — offer a damning portrait of a commander in chief who was uninterested in learning the details of the job, who expected complete loyalty from those around him and who was most concerned with dominance, power and himself.
Haberman reports campaign aides once called Trump a “sophisticated parrot.” Trump lashed out at his top generals during an infamous meeting in the “tank,” the Pentagon’s secure conference room, because he was being told something he didn’t comprehend. “Instead of acknowledging that, he shouted down the teachers,” Haberman writes.
Kelly, his former chief of staff, is said to have described Trump as a “fascist” — uniquely unfit for the job of leading a constitutional democracy, according to Haberman, citing several who spoke to the retired Marine general.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said of the book: “While coastal elites obsess over boring books chock-full of anonymously-sourced mistruths, America is a nation in decline. President Trump is focused on saving America, and there’s nothing the fake news can do about it.”
‘That’s the sexy part’
Earlier this year, Haberman’s reporting for her book revealed that Trump’s staff found documents flushed down the toilet, on top of numerous reports that Trump had a habit of ripping up presidential papers in violation of the Presidential Records Act.
The former President’s handling of documents has taken on new significance following the FBI’s search of his Florida residence and the revelation he took highly classified documents there upon leaving the White House.
Haberman interviewed Trump three times after he left the White House for the book in 2021, including in one instance in which he lied about sending his correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the National Archives, saying he had taken “nothing of great urgency” from the White House. (The Kim letters were among the items the Archives realized were missing in 2021.)
Trump’s cavalier handling of classified material led to distrust between the then-President and the intelligence community, Haberman writes, such as when Trump tweeted out a sensitive picture of damage at an Iranian facility in 2019.
He protested after officials tried to make changes to the image. “If you take out the classification that’s the sexy part,” Trump said, according to Haberman, who wrote that some saw nefarious ends in Trump’s behavior, while others “believed he was operating with the emotional development of a 12-year-old, using the intelligence data to get attention for himself.”
The ‘Trump Disorganization’
Haberman depicts all the organizations Trump has run — his businesses, his campaign and the White House — as dysfunctional and staffed by people who often disdained one another. His company executives referred to Trump’s company as the “Trump Disorganization,” according to the book, which includes examples of several unusual and eyebrow-raising business practices.
That dysfunction spilled into Trump’s campaign and ultimately the White House, where Trump churned through aides and Cabinet secretaries alike, dismissing the advice offered by his own staff.
When then-candidate Trump was under pressure in 2016 to denounce White supremacists like David Duke who were supporting his campaign, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was dispatched to urge Trump to be more forceful distancing himself. Trump was heard responding to Christie on the phone that he would get to it — but it didn’t have to happen too quickly, Haberman writes.
“A lot of these people vote,” Trump told Christie, before ending the call.
Following the 2017 White supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Trump claimed there were good people on “both sides,” Trump’s then-chief economic adviser Gary Cohn prepared a letter of resignation. Trump appealed for Cohn to stay. “If you leave, you’re committing treason,” Trump said, according to Haberman.
Cohn agreed to stay through the administration’s efforts to pass its signature tax overhaul later that year. As Cohn left the Oval Office, Kelly whispered to him: “If I were you I’d have shoved that paper up his f**king ass,” Haberman writes.
According to the book, several Cabinet officials believed Trump had issues with female leaders. He disliked former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and described her in a meeting as “that bitch,” Haberman writes.
Trump’s former Defense Secretary Mark Esper believed Trump’s push to withdraw US troops from Germany was purely out of personal spite, according to the author.
The book shows Trump’s failure to grasp basic policy concepts, such as Trump suggesting in an interview with Haberman that the Senate’s minority party could block legislation by skipping votes. “The vice president’s vote doesn’t count. It doesn’t count. You might want to check this,” Trump said.
When the House introduced articles of impeachment against Trump for the first time in 2019, Trump reacted with a familiar refrain, according to the book: “I’ll just sue Congress. They can’t do this to me.”
In the final year of his presidency, Trump tried to wish away the topic of coronavirus, Haberman writes, minimizing it publicly out of an apparent belief that things only existed if they were discussed openly.
Before Ginsburg’s death in 2020 created a last-minute Supreme Court vacancy that Trump filled just ahead of the presidential election, Haberman writes that Trump would make light of the justice’s deteriorating health.
Trump would clasp his hands and look skyward, Haberman writes. “Please God. Please watch over her. Every life is precious,” Trump said, before almost winking and looking at his aides. “How’s she doing?”
When another visitor came to the Oval Office, Trump asked, “She gonna make it? How much longer you think she has?”
‘The white side’
“Confidence Man” chronicles how Trump’s fixation on race, gender and religion dates back decades, shaped by a tumultuous period in New York City’s history.
“Racial is more severe in New York than it is anywhere else that I can think of,” Trump said in a post-presidency interview with Haberman, who writes that Trump “often seemed frozen in time” in 1980s New York and viewed tribal conflict as inevitable.
During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Trump’s fear of germs and illness led him to announce publicly he would require dates to take an AIDS test, and Haberman writes he called reporters to inquire if people he had met with might be gay — concerned because they had exchanged a handshake.
In the late 1990s, after Trump divorced Marla Maples, he had a relationship with a model, Kara Young, who was the daughter of a Black mother and White father. Haberman writes that after meeting Young’s parents, Trump told her she had gotten her beauty from her mother and intelligence “from her dad, the white side.”
Trump laughed as he said it, Haberman writes. Young told him it wasn’t something to joke about.
Reflecting his view of life as a show he was casting, Trump focused on “the look” — telling others that his wife Melania Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and his first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch were all out of “central casting,” Haberman writes.
The former President remained focus on how those who represented him looked. He complained about the way former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, looked on television. “Can’t we do better lighting or give her better makeup?” he asked, according to the book.
Trump said his acting Homeland Security chief Elaine Duke looked “like a housewife,” Haberman writes. The director of the Secret Service resembled “Dumbo.”
The book includes several examples of Trump’s lurid comments, including one episode in 2016 while he was prepping for a town-hall style debate against Hillary Clinton. Then-Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, playing the character of a young leader of a transgender student association, asked Trump his position on whether someone like her could use the girls’ bathroom.
“I have a question,” Trump said to a room full of his advisers, Haberman writes. “Cocked or decocked?”
The group gave Trump blank stares, Haberman writes, and he made a chopping gesture with his hand. “With cock or without cock?” he asked.
Many of the characters who played a part in Trump’s New York life made recurring appearances throughout his political career and his time in the White House, from longtime confidant Roger Stone making preparations in 1988 for Trump to run for president to rivalries with Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona over a federal loan program spilling into his presidency.
Haberman notes how several people who feuded with Trump ultimately worked for his company, including a city housing commissioner who opposed giving Trump a tax break and a Wall Street analyst Trump sued for $250 million after the analyst said Trump’s finances were overextended. It was not unlike how Trump’s 2016 GOP rivals — from Christie to Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — ultimately became some of his most loyal allies in Washington.
Trump even adopted his rivals’ insults and tactics. In the 1980s, Trump got into a long-running battle with then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch over a real estate deal. Koch, a Democrat, called Trump a “lightweight” — a dig that Trump himself later adopted, in addition to much of Koch’s style, Haberman writes.
After Trump lost the 2020 election, he tried to use some of the same tactics that had kept him afloat in business for so many years. Trump vowed to aides that he simply wouldn’t leave the White House, Haberman reported.
Some of Trump’s inner circle, like Kushner, avoided confronting Trump. But Trump wouldn’t listen to those who said he lost anyway. White House aide Hope Hicks told Trump she had seen no proof of widespread fraud. “You’re wrong,” Trump replied, according to Haberman, hoping to scare others out of agreeing with her.
As Trump turned toward January 6, 2021, and the false belief that then-Vice President Mike Pence could block the certification of the 2020 election, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, warned the Secret Service that Trump was going to turn on the vice president and there could be a security risk as a result, Haberman reports.
In the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, it briefly appeared as though Republicans were prepared to move on from Trump. But he maintained his grip on the party and has focused much of the last two years on defeating the Republicans who crossed him.
Haberman writes that Trump has told others that he needed to get aggressively involved in 2022 primaries to make sure he’d have allies in place if the 2024 election were contested or if he were to be impeached following another White House win. Trump told Haberman that former President Richard Nixon was ousted from office in part because he had “treated the Senate and he treated the House unbelievable badly, and he got away with it, and then all of the sudden he had Watergate.”
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