When Trump demanded that NATO nations pay their delinquent dues, token amounts of money that they had agreed to pay to provide for their own defense, the American national media erupted. He was trying to weaken NATO, they claimed. He was a Russian spy. The media insisted this with a straight face. Trump did not back down. “This has been going on for decades, by the way. Under many presidents,” he said. “But no other president has brought it up like I have.” He was right. In fact, within two years, the NATO secretary general insisted that Trump’s confrontational approach to member nations had made the organization stronger than it had ever been. The call for increased participation from allied nations was “having a real impact.” It was long overdue. “Here is the ultimate example of American stupidity,” Trump told me. “We buy billions and billions of dollars’ worth of missiles. Then we give them away to our allies, our rich allies. “So I challenge that. I say to the general, ‘Why are we doing that?’” At this point in the conversation, Trump once again adopted the persona of a character in his story. He straightened up like a soldier and declared solemnly, speaking in the monotone, emotionless, staccato voice of his general, “Sir! They are our ally. They are our friends. Sir!” Then Trump’s demeanor relaxed. “I say, ‘They are not our friends. They are ripping us off.’” The president straightened up again, becoming the general. “‘Sir, they are our ally. Sir!’ “The worst part of this is the realization that the people who treat us worst are our allies.
With Trump as president, NATO nations that were the most flagrant abusers of their own agreement started coming into line. Trump’s action raised more than $40 billion for the United States—money that would have never come in without him. NATO nations added $100 billion toward their own defense. According to NATO’s secretary general, Jena Stoltenberg, the alliance was now stronger than ever.
The president waved a small handful of papers above his head, as if he were teasing a child with candy. “So, we’ve agreed to show you everything.” He waved the papers. “Nobody’s seen this. My people don’t want me to give these to you. But I want you to read them. If you are going to do this book, you need to read this. “These are private. These are the personal letters exchanged between me and Kim Jong-un. You can’t keep them, but I’m going to let you read them. These are amazing. This is history. I want to know what you think Donald Trump had obviously signed on to the idea of this book, because without any prompting from me, or without a single question, he was now waving these letters—the crown jewels—before me.
“So, they don’t want me to let you see these letters, but I think you should,” he said. “I think you should. This is my personal correspondence with Kim Jong-un. I want you to read it.” I didn’t know who he meant by “they,” the people who had told him not to show me the documents, but I assumed it wasn’t Bill or Sarah, the only others in the room. It was more likely NSA advisers, or State Department folks or intelligence experts. And they would all have good reasons to tell him not to let a writer see them. But that, of course, meant that my project was known to them, as well, and that it had been discussed. “You can’t photograph these or copy them in anyway,” the president said. I imagined he was passing on protocols to which he had agreed. And then he added, “Nobody will ever know how close we came to war.”
“That last night of the inauguration celebration we were all together,” Don Jr. remembers. “The White House staff created a table full of kids’ food in the State Dining Room, and, as you know, the kids always get the good stuff. Everybody likes kids’ food. Soon the adults were in there chowing down on hamburgers and chicken fingers.” The children didn’t stay in the dining room long. They were soon scattered throughout the State Floor in a rousing game of White House hide-and-go-seek with Uncle Barron as the supervisor. “The kids all love Barron,” Don Jr. explains. “He rules the grandkids.” Within minutes there were shrieks of laughter and screams of delight as Trump children were rousted out from behind drapes in the Blue Room and from underneath chairs in the Red Room. With the sounds of giggling grandchildren echoing in the halls of the White House, the adult members of the Trump family sat down together around the table in the State Dining Room. Carved into the stone fireplace were the famous words of John Adams, the first president to live there: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House and on all who shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.”
Eric and Lara Trump had an announcement. “That night, Eric and I told the whole family I was pregnant with Luke, with our son,” Lara said. “It was just a very special memory that we will always have.” Hearing the loud exclamations, Barron came rushing back into the dining room. He was sweating and huffing and puffing. Out of breath. “What happened? What happened?” He was juggling both worlds: the grandkids, where he reigned supreme as the favorite uncle, and the adults, who were busy changing the world from the White House State Dining Room. “Okay?” Barron asked, waiting for an answer. Was that it? Was there more? Were the announcements over? “Okay?” The kids were calling from the East Room of the White House, where they had found new, foolproof places to hide. Uncle Barron was needed elsewhere.
Journalists often try to look for a wedge between the first couple. The president was known for calling out, “Where’s my supermodel?” Was this demeaning? Melania was once asked. She only smiled. “It’s his sense of humor.”
Other members of the Trump family insisted that the two, the president and the first lady, were often playful in their repartee. For example, while outwardly, officially, the various Trump family members would talk about what a privilege it was to serve their country, and you could ask them how they were holding up to the scurrilous public attacks and they would all answer back graciously, the fact was that privately, it was a nightmare, and they all knew it. No first family in recent memory had gone through what they were going through. It was much worse than Donald Trump’s original warnings back at the family meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The president would occasionally ease the tension by teasing the first lady, saying, sarcastically, with puffed up importance, “Melania, honey, look at this incredible journey I have brought you on.” “It’s like a joke between them at every dinner,” Lara says. “Everyone is attacking all of us and she’s smeared for no reason other than pure jealousy and he says, ‘Hon, isn’t this amazing? This journey that I have allowed you to come on?’ “And she’s like, ‘Oh yeah, thank you so much.’
Donald Trump met privately with his wife, Melania. “Baby, I’ll tell you what. We’re not going to win tonight, because the polls have come out, and it’s looking bad. “But, you know what, I’m okay with it. I couldn’t have worked any harder. You can’t do any worse than that. I mean, I just couldn’t have done it. And if I lose, I lose. And you know what? If I lose, I’m going to have a nice, easy life. We can all relax, together, right?” But Melania, who had consistently told him from the beginning that he would win, would have none of it. Again, at this moment, when the experts all agreed it was over, and it was being proclaimed on television and he was giving her the bad news, she was still not convinced. She listened politely and then then answered back once again. “It’s not over,” she told him. “You are going to win.”
Donald Trump may have been a little skeptical, but he did not totally reject Brad Parscale’s numbers. “Their numbers are all based on the wrong turnout probabilities,” Parscale insisted. “You are going to win, sir.” “Well, you may be right,” Trump said to Brad.
During this conversation, someone asked the candidate what he would do if the networks were right—which it appeared was going to happen. What should they plan? Would he stop by the party at the Hilton to greet the people who were waiting? They needed to know how to handle it. “You know what?” Trump said, “I’m just going to go downstairs and make a statement and the next day I’ll get on my plane and go play golf in Ireland.” That was it. That was how the marathon presidential campaign would end. Right where it had begun. At the bottom of that escalator in Trump Tower. Or out on the streets of Fifth Avenue.
For a moment, still uncertain, waiting for television anchors to confirm what his own team was telling him, Donald Trump sat transfixed by what he was seeing on television. He was now watching the Clinton supporters at the Javits Center as they tracked the returns. There was a slight, delayed reaction to what he was learning from his own team and what was being reported to the public.
“Look at these crying Clinton supporters, imagine how they feel?” Trump said, studying the tear-streaked faces of young ladies at the Javits Center. “They never saw it coming. Just think how hard they have worked. It must be terrible. It must be terrible.”
For weeks, he had been bracing himself for those same feelings. Ivanka was struck by the contrast between her father’s mood and the jubilation echoing in the staff rooms in other parts of Trump Tower. She understood the joy of the team, even the gloating. They had every right to rejoice in a very hard-fought and bitter political victory. “New York hates you!” the crowd had screamed at the Trumps when they had voted earlier that day. But Ivanka knew her father was in no mood to rub it in. “This was a part of Donald Trump that the public doesn’t see,” she told me in an interview about that night. “He defies typecasting. I think it’s an area in which he is misunderstood. He is really very compassionate.”
Trump dramatically ripped up the speech. “This is totally wrong,” he said. “We have to reach out to those people we saw crying tonight and we have to tell them that it’s going to be okay. And we are going to come together.”
Ivanka remembered the moment as almost magical. “His instinct was so immediate and so strong,” she said, referring to her father’s mood. “It was a beautiful thing. His first reaction was to feel deeply about what the Clinton supporters were experiencing. And partly because everyone had told them that this was an outcome that was not possible. He was supersensitive to that, and you saw it reflected in his words. “It was close to midnight by then.” Ivanka recalled. “And yet, in that brief moment, none of us felt tired. We felt good about the country, and I felt good about my father and his desire to bring the country together. I have so many photos of us just sitting together and rewriting that speech. The feeling in that room was really something beautiful.”
As a candidate, Trump’s frequent refrain was “America First.” We should take care of our own problems, he said, before meddling in the business of other nations. But the words “America First” were also a reminder that other countries were competing for our attention and our resources. One reason Trump had entered politics was his long-felt frustration over the nation’s trade deficits and defense arrangements, which he believed had led to the economic bloodletting of the American middle class. Were Americans being taxed to take care of the rest of the world? Trump had also complained that massive regulations, especially onerous to homegrown American businesses, had chased companies and jobs out of the country. The challenge for Trump was determining how to take this on. Those jobs were going somewhere. Those trade deficits were benefiting someone. Our massive military expenditures were protecting other nations, freeing them to spend their money on other things. The tax dollars that had fled America under Bush and Obama, on a massive scale, were now funding other nations’ government programs. They were building highways and airports in the capitals of other nations. An American president who had promised to make his country great again would have to pry loose those American dollars from the clutches of nations that had become addicted to them and that would not give them up willingly. America was not alone in the world. If Donald Trump was really going to put America first, the rest of the world was going to howl.
And it was even more complicated than that. The world of commerce had grown so international and interconnected that most big American banks and companies had also found a way to benefit from the money flowing to other countries. “America First” would be resisted not only by a long list of nations that were sucking from the teat of the American middle class, but also by many of America’s corporate giants, many of which were major advertisers and owners of the American media. Trump was in for the fight of his life.
Our biggest trade deficits were often with countries that manipulated their currencies and stole American intellectual property, including top-secret military technology. Much of this, especially the key relationships of major American corporations with China, was driven by insider deals and a vast maze of “legalized” corruption. Many of those companies also sponsored the US news organizations whose stories promoted those same policies to the American people.
All of those companies gave massive donations to the Democratic and Republican parties and to key legislators. They financed many well-intentioned special-interest groups that promoted regulations that caused economic hardship for small businesses, conveniently resulting in monopolies for themselves. They financed think tanks that commissioned scholars to write papers and conduct studies to justify the status quo.
America’s universities, addicted to foreign students who were paying full tuition, openly advocated globalism and funded supporters such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, who was reportedly paid $350,000 by Harvard University to teach a single class. This is the same woman who conveniently promoted the idea of government-paid, free college education. It was hard for some to see Harvard University, which had a $37.6 billion endowment, in need of further government subsidy.
In a conversation with the president, I brought up these issues. “When you were first elected and took office, you obviously began to learn details that the rest of us don’t know,” I said. “You had all of these ideas for years, decades really, ideas about the world and about trade and corruption. You’ve given speeches about it. How did all of that change when you became president? Was it as bad as you thought?” “It is even worse,” the president said. “It is far worse than I thought. “The good news,” he added, “is that we have great potential. We are turning it all around. And that’s one of the reasons this country is rebounding. “I can give you twelve countries right now. You would be shocked! How about Germany? How about Saudi Arabia? These are great countries. These are rich countries. Some of the richest countries in the world.
“So, we defend Saudi Arabia and they don’t pay us, okay?”
The president shifts in his chair, preparing me for his impersonation of an actual conversation. You’ve got to love this; remember, Trump is an entertainer.
“So, I told the king, ‘You’ve got to pay. Okay, king? You’ve got to pay.’”
The president then pursed his lips to mimic the dignity of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia. “And the king says, ‘Yes, and how much would you like?’
“Imagine? Imagine?” Trump said. “The Saudis have been doing this for years, but nobody ever asked them to help pay for it. Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for American support. It is the most incredible thing I have ever seen. Our roads are falling apart, our bridges are in danger, our airports look like they are in developing countries, and you have years and years of us protecting the world while they all grow rich. Doug, I hope you can see right now how crazy this is.”
He impersonated King Salman once again, pursing his lips. “‘Yes, and how much would you like?’
Like others, I have enjoyed reading the titillating, racy stories that have issued forth from bestselling books about the Trump White House. At times I felt nagging pangs of doubt, wondering why the stories always have come from anonymous sources.
Doesn’t anyone ever go on record nowadays? And why were so many stories later denied by their cited sources? So when I got the opportunity to write an insider history of the Trump White House I fairly tripped over my own feet to get through the doors.
“Michael Beschloss came to Mar-a-Lago right after I won the election,” the president told me, referring to the bestselling presidential historian. “He kissed my a– for a week, now he’s on television getting paid money to attack me.”
What I discovered inside the Trump bubble was quite different from what had been reported. No, Melania and Donald were not estranged, they were tender lovers, who playfully teased each other. On almost any subject — North Korea, China, Mueller — the president brought up her name.
Publicly, the whole family talks about what a privilege it is to serve the country, but privately they have no illusions about the horror they are going through. The president sometimes eases the tension by teasing the first lady, saying, sarcastically, with puffed up importance, “Melania, honey, look at this incredible journey I have brought you on.”
“It’s like a joke between them,” Lara Trump told me. “Everyone is attacking all of us and she’s smeared for no reason other than pure jealousy and he says, ‘Hon, isn’t this amazing?’
“And she’s like, ‘Oh yeah, thank you so much.’ “It’s hilarious. I love it.”
What about the theory that Donald Trump decided to run for president after the April 30, 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Everyone in the family from the president on down dismissed the idea and then proceeded to tell me how it really happened.
What about that famous story of Bannon and Priebus and Ivanka Trump? When Bannon supposedly shouted to Ivanka, “You are just a f—— staffer?”
“Never happened,” Ivanka told me calmly.
“There’s no truth to it?” I persisted. It sold 100,000 books.
“None whatsoever,” she said. “My life is too important for me to waste in rivalries and in personal vendettas. I choose to think the best of people. Most of all, I choose to be happy. I have no time for bitterness.”
While I spent two years interviewing the family, a new book was published claiming to have the real story on how Donald Trump had chosen Mike Pence as his running mate. It was totally false.
“Want to know what really happened?” Eric Trump asked me. And he then related the details of that night he and his father had steaks together with Mike and Karen Pence, at the Capital Grille at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis.
It turns out that the real stories of what has been happening inside Trump-world are far more interesting than the fake ones.
“There are two kinds of staffers,” Jared Kushner told me. “Those who want to help Trump save the world, and those who want to save the world from Trump.”
Donald Trump is the sixth president I have interviewed and I came away impressed. Some will say that he is only lucky. He was lucky to win the nomination and the election. He was lucky to see what every great economist in the world had missed about the GDP, lucky at finding jobs that no one else could find, lucky at bringing back hostages that other presidents had left languishing in foreign prisons, lucky at achieving energy independence, lucky at defeating ISIS so easily.
Trump is, arguably, the first president in 40 years to avoid starting a hot war. You can say he is lucky. I say he is great.
Impeachment looms but the earlier, ridiculous claims that he is a Russian spy may have, ironically, inoculated him for history. What’s it like in the eye of the Trump storm?
Calm and peaceful. “All of us hold out hope that the right thing will happen in the end,” Lara Trump told me. “Maybe we will all be long gone but, eventually, we will be vindicated and validated.”
President Trump describes how the Russian Collusion allegations began and offers a surprising name of a major person behind it. Not Christopher Steele, not James Comey, not Peter Strozk.
“The interesting thing out of all of this is that we caught them spying on the election. They were spying on my campaign. So you know? What is that all about?” “I have never ever said this.” President Trump told me, “but truth is, they got caught spying. They were spying!” And then, in case I didn’t understand what he was saying to me, he added just who it was who he thought was doing the spying. “Obama,” the president said.
“It turned out I was right. By the way,” Trump said. “In fact, what I said was peanuts compared to what they did. They were spying on my campaign. They got caught and they said, ‘Oh we were not spying. It was actually an investigation.’ Can you imagine an administration investigating its political opponents?
“What they did was treasonous, Okay? It was treasonous.”
Donald Trump is right. America is not the policeman of the world. As ugly and painful as American’s pull out from Syria may be, at some point our endless adventures have to stop. Trump is one of the few presidents gutsy enough to keep a campaign promise and he is our best hope to close out these endless wars.
Like a lot of Americans I feel deeply hurt to see us abandon the Kurds.They helped us during the first Gulf War under George H.W. Bush. When we pulled out we left them unprotected and Saddam Hussein gassed their villages. I was serving on senior staff at the White House during that time and remember well the sense of betrayal.
The Kurds came to our assistance once again in the war against ISIS, the Islamic terrorists who invaded the Middle East thanks to a vacuum created by President Barack Obama. For several years the hideous black ISIS flags flew proudly from the turrets of American made personnel carriers. Under Obama, we had literally supplied our terrorist opponents. But the Kurds patiently helped us roll that all back.
Keep in mind. The Kurds are not a formal ally. The nation of Turkey is.And keep in mind, that the conflict between the Turks and the Kurds is hundreds of years old. It was amusing to see the Democrats lecturing the president on why his pullout was wrong and how to deal with ISIS. When they were in power their strategy to stop ISIS was to defuse tension by cultural appeasement. They refused to allow anyone in government to use the phrase “Islamic terrorist.”
In my new book, “Inside Trump’s White House: The Real Story of His Presidency,” (pub. Nov. 26,) I interview President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, and others, getting the full remarkable story of how we defeated ISIS. I also capture some of why President Trump sees America’s role in policing the world as a mistake.
The President shared to me his view that the invasion of Iraq was one of America’s greatest historical blunders. We justified our war on the false grounds that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And if not, Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator anyway.
On March 6, 2007, Obama was quoted as saying that the Muslim call to prayer was “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset.” At the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama lectured Christians on the crimes they had committed in the Crusades, 800 years before. Meanwhile the ISIS caliphate grew to 35,000 square miles of territory.
Consider Ronald Reagan. He was facing the danger of international communism, which openly declared its intentions of ruling the world but Reagan’s involvements were measured. He did no go after Cambodian leader Pol Pot, the man who killed half of his own people in a nationwide genocide. Nor did Reagan go after Idi Amin, who slaughtered hundreds of thousand in Africa and had just been driven from office when Reagan arrived in the White House. Both of these despotic leaders were left untouched by Reagan.
When Reagan stuck his toe in the Middle East in 1982, it resulted in the death of 241 marines. He withdrew our forces immediately, deciding it was not in America’s security interests to be involved in the intractable problems of the Middle East. How wise that seems in retrospect.
On the other hand, we spent trillions of dollars and destroyed our own economy to take out the evil regime of Saddam Hussein. Now, both the Republican and Democratic establishment are outraged that Trump is ending one of our wars. Massive lobbies pour their donations into the American congress, all to support the ongoing military industrial complex. Ironically, former first lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed in 2018, condemning the separation of children from parents who had been arrested illegally entering the United States. She called the policy cruel and immoral, and said that “it breaks my heart.” Meanwhile, George W. Bush’s war in Iraq took the lives of 20,000 children.
There are problems all over the world. There is injustice and heartbreak. There is danger. But there is an admonition we hear every time we fly on an airline. “If you are accompanying a child, please put your own oxygen mask on first and then assist your child.” America’s education system has utterly failed. Her bridges and highways are in disrepair. Her airports are falling apart. It’s time for America to put on her own oxygen mask. Maybe then she can once again be strong for others.
President-elect Donald Trump’s first conversation with President Barack Obama was about the threat of war with North Korea but the most important details of that conversation and Trump’s conclusion have never been told.
Here is the president telling them in his own words:
“Right there, right over there,” President Trump said, pointing to the two chairs in front of the fireplace, “is where Barack Obama told me that my greatest problem, when I became President, was the possibility of war with North Korea. In fact, privately, he said, ‘You-will-have-a-war-with-North-Korea-on-your-watch.’ The President dramatically lowered his voice, continuing his story, “And I said to Obama, ‘Well, Mr. President, have you called him?’ “And Obama said, ‘No, he’s a dictator.’” As if that in, itself, explained everything. Then the President paused, letting those words sink in. “No, he hadn’t called him because he’s a dictator?” Now, two years later, Donald Trump was still amazed by that conversation. And then he concluded, out loud, to all of us in the room. “Stupid.”