Stephanie Grisham Reflects On Trump White House Chaos And Mismanagement : The NPR Politics Podcast Former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham was part of the Trump administration from the beginning and, in a conversation with Tamara Keith, offers a clear picture into what she used to actively obscure: the chaos, pettiness, and mismanagement that characterized his four years in power. Her book is I'll Take Your Questions Now.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith and White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe.

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Why Trump's Former Press Secretary Worries About His Influence In 2022

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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: And I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

KEITH: So today we are going to hear from a former Trump administration senior official about what things were really like inside the Trump White House. And, I mean, we saw chaos from the outside, but it turns out there was even more going on that we didn't see, at least according to this new book.

So, Ayesha, set it up for us. This is Stephanie Grisham, a former press secretary who wrote this new book called "I'll Take Your Questions Now."

RASCOE: Yeah. She was with the Trumps from the start. She worked on the campaign, then she went to the White House. She is the only one of the press secretaries that people probably didn't really know very well - the public didn't know that well - because she never gave a press briefing. But she worked very closely with President Trump because she was his press secretary. And she also worked very closely with the first lady, Melania Trump, which also made her very rare because there weren't a lot of people that were dealing with Melania Trump on a regular basis. But, you know, things fell apart, and she ended up resigning on January 6.

KEITH: And we should say that like everyone else who has gone down this well-worn path of writing books about the Trump White House, Stephanie Grisham has gotten hit with harsh statements from the Office of Melania Trump and also the former president, statements that actually sound a lot like statements Grisham put out about other people.

RASCOE: And Grisham did say in her book that she was expecting this because this is pretty much the playbook for the Trumps whenever a disgruntled former staffer puts out a book. The Office of Melania Trump said that the author is desperately trying to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation by manipulating and distorting the truth about Mrs. Trump.

KEITH: And former President Trump, in his statement, said, Stephanie didn't have what it takes, and that was obvious from the beginning. She became very angry and bitter. So I interviewed her earlier today and started the conversation asking a question I think a lot of us have, which is, is this book about some sort of reputation, rehabilitation, or trying to get a TV contract? Or, like, why is she doing this?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM: First of all, I do want to say I don't have any illusion that this is going to rehabilitate my reputation. I have absolutely no thoughts that that's going to happen. Why did I decide to write it? I decided to write it because, again, removing myself from the situation and watching from afar, I see that they keep pushing the election lie. And, you know, that is bad for our democracy. And the fact is that President Biden won, and he won legitimately. And just because we as Republicans may not like that, I don't think we get to call, oh, it's cheating, it's cheating.

I've been watching former President Trump take advantage, I think, of people who believe his every word. And I think that's causing a lot more division and violence. I think when I very first started with him, you know, I really enjoyed that he gave a voice to people who felt forgotten. And I feel like now he's taken advantage of those people a little bit - well, a lot bit.

KEITH: Do you think he wasn't at the beginning?

GRISHAM: At the beginning, in my mind - right? - what I saw was these people crowding into these rallies who were excited about politics. When I first started, politics was kind of boring, and it was kind of dry. And everything was poll-tested, and nobody was authentic. And he - I saw people be excited about politics, and I saw people be excited about why the government does certain things and helping this country. And so for me personally, in the beginning, I didn't think he was taking advantage. I really thought he was giving a voice to people and explaining things in a very straightforward way that people were understanding.

KEITH: Stephanie, I want to direct you to Page 102 of your book. I have it here. And there's this section that I think is - well, it's about General John Kelly, the second chief of staff. But in a way, it seems to be about the entire Trump White House experience. You write, (reading) as with everything, hindsight is 20/20, and it would become clear well after he was gone that he had done the best job of reining in the crazy and keeping the Oval Office access to the president well-guarded. But holding back the crazy in the Trump White House was like one of the last lines in the Al Wilson song, "The Snake," that the president was so fond of reciting at his rallies; you knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.

(Laughter) I mean, what was it like to work in that White House?

GRISHAM: Well, I mean, OK, one word - right? - if I had to say one word, it was chaos. But, you know, people aren't remembering that I was actually in the East Wing for almost three years. So I wasn't in it, really. I wasn't in the thick of it for a lot of that until, obviously, I went to the West Wing and took on the press secretary role. Once I got over there, you know, it was everything, I think, deep down, I knew it was, but maybe couldn't or didn't want to believe. It was harsh. It was chaotic. And it was every man for themselves. It was just - by the time I got there especially, I think it was every man for themselves because we had gone through - we were on our third chief of staff. We were on, you know - I mean, you know, so many different senior level officials had gone over and over and over. And so it was just - it was just not a good, positive environment. And at that point, I don't think anybody was worried about helping the country. They were all, at that point, worried about getting him reelected.

KEITH: Let's talk about coronavirus. It was a very chaotic time. The White House was changing chiefs of staff just as America was coming to terms with the fact that this pandemic was going to change our lives. And on March 11, 2020, there was a decision for the president to deliver an Oval Office address on the coronavirus. I don't even think you were initially invited to the meeting where that decision was made. You just walked in because that's how it works.

GRISHAM: Well, correct. Well, luckily, it was even more than that, actually. I - one of my deputies had accidentally, earlier in the morning, walked into a meeting between Jared and Ivanka and Hope Hicks and White House counsel talking about giving an address to the nation. So I looked at the president - then-president's calendar, and sure enough, I saw there was a big COVID meeting I was not invited to. So I just headed in there and sat down.

And that was one of the most maddening days for me. And as I write in the book, it's one of my biggest regrets in terms of not speaking up. Basically, Jared and Ivanka wanted President Trump to give an address to the nation that night so he would look presidential. And that's not how those work. An address to the nation is important. Networks, you know, turn off their programming and lose advertising dollars because the president is about to give really important information to the citizens of this country. But they didn't care about that. They just wanted him to look presidential because we're getting ready for reelection now. And his first address to the nation was written quickly and had a lot of mistakes in it and caused mass confusion.

KEITH: That message was incredibly garbled that night, where we didn't know what he was announcing.

GRISHAM: Yes. And it confused other countries, and it confused every agency in our country. And I will say, he was not served well that day. President Trump was not served well that day. But he was listening to his daughter and his son-in-law.

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break, and when we get back, we'll hear more from our conversation with Stephanie Grisham.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: And we're back. And Ayesha, as part of this conversation with President Trump's former press secretary - you know, the person in charge of relations with the press for an extended period in his administration - who better to ask this question that I've had for a long time, which is - you know, in private, he seemed to be seeking the approval of the press - heck, even in public sometimes. But when he was with his supporters, when he was with leaders of other countries, he would openly denigrate the press and call us enemies of the people. And really, he had the effect of trying to tear down one of the pillars of democracy. And I wanted to ask her, so, was it all for show?

GRISHAM: I think he - at first, I think he didn't understand. I truly do think he didn't understand why the press was so different from when he was, you know, a celebrity or the owner of amazing golf courses. I think that, you know, he didn't understand that before, they could give some reporters a plate of cheese and fruit and let them play a golf game and they would get nice - you know? And I think he didn't understand why suddenly people were holding him to account for the things he was doing and saying. And I think he - when he realized that he was just never going to win in his eyes - I'm not saying he should have, you know - I think he just was, frankly, angry. And I think he was taking it out on you guys. And I think he enjoyed looking tough. And then I think he realized he had something there.

KEITH: Is it correct that you didn't actually vote for him in 2020?

GRISHAM: Yes.

KEITH: I mean, how could you continue working in the White House with someone who you didn't believe in even enough to just vote for?

GRISHAM: I know. And I feel like I sound like this is an excuse, and I don't like - I'm truly just being honest. I still worked for Mrs. Trump at the time, and I really cared for her, and I really believed in her, and I thought she was my friend. And I thought, you know, just because I don't want him to be the president again doesn't mean I'm going to abandon her. So, you know, I don't think people will like that answer, but that's just the true answer.

KEITH: Ultimately, you did resign on January 6. I mean, you made it through "Access Hollywood" tapes, Charlottesville, the revelations about Stormy Daniels, the coronavirus and what you see as mismanagement of it, the first impeachment. But then - I mean, you made it past the election. He lied about the election results for two months. Like, what was it?

GRISHAM: Yeah. You know, at the time with "Access Hollywood," he was the Republican nominee, so I was going to stick with my team. And with this, you know, I had a bunker mentality. With Charlottesville, I worked for Mrs. Trump, and she was one of the first to denounce it. And I was really, really proud of her for that. Coronavirus I think we handled tragically, especially in the beginning. I do think that we did great with the vaccines, thank goodness, and I think that that was positive. And watching them push the election, I was struggling. The last six months, I was struggling, and I tried to resign a few times. I will say that. And every time Mrs. Trump would ask me to stay and convince me to stay. And in fact, I had a letter written and ready to go to hand over at any moment. And then January 6 happened. And I was watching on TV what so many of us watched, and it was horrible. And I - you know, as everybody knows now, I sent her a text and said, you know, would you want to tweet that protests are the right of every American, but there is no room for violence. And she said no. And I think because the six - the last six months, I had been so ready to go, and then to have her give me that cold response with no explanation whatsoever, and then my knowing that she was photographing a carpet at that very moment, I think I just broke. So it's not like January 6 I just turned a switch and - I had been struggling a lot for six months prior.

KEITH: Stephanie Grisham - her book is "I Will Take Your Questions Now" (ph). Thank you so much.

GRISHAM: Thank you very much. It was good talking to you.

KEITH: And Ayesha Rascoe, you reviewed the book, and you've listened to this interview. What are your big takeaways?

RASCOE: My big takeaway was really there was chaos absolutely. Everyone saw that. She confirmed it. But there was also this just deep level of pettiness where it seemed like the officials in this White House weren't, you know, concerned about, like, running the, you know, richest country in the world, being the leader of the free world. It was all about, like, where you were in a motorcade or photo ops or, you know, just fighting over proximity to people and not really about, like, the big picture that you would think that a White House would be focused on. And so that stood out to me. And I think that a lot of people may wonder, like, well, why even talk about this? But I think, you know, former President Trump is still, you know, politically active. There's a very real chance that he could run again in 2024, so he hasn't left. And so the - how that presidency was run could be, you know, something that is important in the future. And so people need to know about it, and we need to talk about it.

KEITH: He very well could run again and be elected again. And that is part of what Grisham told me she was motivated by, was wanting to reach people, reach his supporters and help them see what she had seen in hopes that, you know, this wouldn't happen again. Because she says if he wins in 2024, he's not going to have to worry about reelection. And so there are things that he - inclinations that he had that he was held back on that he just wouldn't be held back on in the future, she argued.

RASCOE: Yeah, it's just not clear who will listen to her because she doesn't really have a political home right now - so on the right or the left. So it's not clear who she could persuade.

KEITH: All right, let's leave it there. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to THE NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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