Yet another former Trump administration lackey has published a tell-all memoir; this time, it’s Cliff Sims, who worked as a communications staffer in the White House before leaving and writing Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House, which is out on Tuesday.
While the blow-ups of former Chief of Staff John Kelly and anecdotes about Mitch McConnell and Kellyanne Conway have generated most of the media attention around Sims’s book, what does Sims have to say about our first lady?
Let’s dive in.
Apparently Melania is a planner and a blue vest-hater (emphasis my own):
On the day of the event, everything was in place—the staging, the decorations, the eighteen thousand colored Easter eggs, the band. Stephanie Grisham, her Communications Director, had mapped out all of the camera angles and movements. Mrs. Trump was wearing an elegant light pink silk dress. She looked at ease, as if the whole thing had come together without much effort. She and Barron were preparing to accompany the President out onto the balcony with a junior staffer dressed in an Easter Bunny costume when Melania froze. Her lips formed into a judgmental frown.
“That needs to be taken off,” she said.
She wasn’t talking to Barron or her husband, but the Easter Bunny. He was wearing a light blue vest, and for whatever reason the color or the fabric intruded on the First Lady’s milieu. With seconds to go, staffers jumped into action, scrambling to undress the white bunny in full view of a slightly perplexed President.
“That’s much better,” she said.
Sims also insists that, contrary to all reports, Melania enjoys her job and loves her husband (debatable). He also writes that she sees herself as “her husband’s fiercest protector” (which, as my colleague Stassa Edwards has written before, has been true for years):
I know there are many outside the White House who have become invested in the mythology, often backed by anonymous sources, that Melania secretly hated her husband, or was planning to divorce him, or had some business arrangement that kept them together. As with every marriage, they had their good days and bad days, often centering around times when accusations of past infidelity were in the news. But from what I saw she never wavered in her support, and she was serious about her official role as First Lady and her self-appointed role as her husband’s fiercest protector.
The latter point is highlighted by a story Sims shares about Mike Dubke, the former White House Communications Director who appeared in a story that Melania found alarming. “Right after the story popped online, Dubke was torpedoed by a very unexpected source,” Sims writes. “Unexpected, at least, to those who didn’t know her. The First Lady.” Sims continues:
Mrs. Trump was also a savvy consumer of news, and her quiet work as the President’s protector in chief was never fully appreciated by most people, either inside or outside the White House. She spent hours each day consuming the television coverage and tracking the palace intrigue inside the West Wing. That’s how Dubke caught her attention.
Appalled by the Politico story, the First Lady rang the President in the Oval Office. He put her on speakerphone and listened with increasing alarm as she explained that he had serious issues within his communications team, particularly with this new guy Mike Dubke. She told him he needed to read the Politico story immediately.
While all of the above is eminently believable, what is not believable is the picture Sims paints of the relationship between Melania and her husband: tender, loving, supportive. Contrary to all logic, the evidence of my own eyes, and other reporting, Sims insists they have a healthy and wonderful marriage.
Consider this passage from the introduction, in which Sims details a scene from election night (emphasis again my own):
As Trump and the next First Lady of the United States entered the Trump Tower elevators, and the doors closed in front of them, he let his guard down. Just for a split second, at least, as a friend who was in the elevator told me soon after. In that instant—the first time on Election Night when they weren’t around hordes of aides and friends—the bravado and bragging were gone. For the briefest of moments, the gravity of what was happening hit him. President of the United States of America. Leader of the Free World. Extraordinary power. Mind-boggling responsibility. Heavy, heavy stuff.
The man who is never at a loss for words was rendered speechless by the verdict of history. And he looked, just for the briefest of moments, vulnerable. Sensing this was Melania Trump. Melania was never the person outside observers seemed convinced she was—a reluctant and put-upon spouse who just wanted to escape him. For good or ill, she was in it with him all the way. In that moment, she reached for her husband’s hand and squeezed it.
“We’re going to do this together,” she reassured him, “and you’re going to be a great president.”
He stood silently in the elevator as the floor numbers scrolled down.
Or this scene from their first Christmas in the White House, in which Sims repeatedly insists that the Trumps enjoy each other’s company:
Today he had walked over from the West Wing to perform another one of his ceremonial duties: recording a Christmas video message to the nation. Such recording sessions were far from his favorite task, but he was looking forward to this one because he and Mrs. Trump were doing it together.
As we breezed through the Red Room, he straightened his tie and looked down to make sure his flag lapel pin was perfectly positioned. Walking into the Blue Room, directly in front of us stood the centerpiece of all the immaculate decorations: the official White Christmas tree. The enormous evergreen from Wisconsin stretched all the way to the ceiling and was decorated with glass ornaments depicting the seal of each U.S. state. But none of that mattered to the President, because the only thing he cared to see at that moment was his wife.
“Hey, baby,” he said as he walked over and kissed her on the cheek. “Are we ready to do some recording?” She looked stunning in a red lace dress that couldn’t have fit better if she had been born wearing it. “No one’s even going to be paying attention to me in this video!” the President said to the crew. “Do we agree, guys, no one’s even going to know that I’m here!” He leaned over and nudged the First Lady with his shoulder and she smiled slightly.
She was a bit nervous ahead of video recordings and public appearances in which she would speak. She occasionally expressed concerns that her accent was too strong and made her hard to understand. So she practiced relentlessly for any speaking role she needed to play. This stood in stark contrast to her gregarious husband, of course, who never met a crowd he didn’t want to entertain and loved nothing more than shooting from the hip. But when the First Lady was around, she was always the focus of his attention.
As the recording session began, he was clearly trying to impress her. He wanted to nail his lines on the first take. When it was her turn to speak and she’d make a mistake, he’d encourage her. “You sound like you’re from New York, honey,” he said. “Can’t even tell you have an accent.”
According to Sims, Melania’s code name with the Secret Service was “Muse,” which “fit with the way the President viewed her.”