It has been an unusually busy week for President Trump’s personal lawyers as they have sought to challenge, dismiss or suppress books by members of his inner circle. First a biography of his wife Melania, then a devastating critique by his former national security adviser John Bolton, and now a yet-to-be-published savaging by his own niece. Trump, meanwhile, is struggling to get his re-election campaign going, in the midst of the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused.
Bolton’s attacks may be the most significant politically, as they cut right to the President’s competence. In a TV interview this weekend, Bolton, a veteran Republican official who spent 17 months in his role at the President’s elbow, called Trump “naive and dangerous”, adding:“I hope [history] will remember him as a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country into a downward spiral we can’t recover from.
“I don’t think he’s fit for office … I’m not gonna vote for him in November.”
Bolton was plugging his book The Room Where It Happened. Copies have already leaked out, even while the President tried to block it. It will officially come out today, having survived both a security review and a legal challenge from the Justice Department.
Bolton accuses Trump of mishandling foreign affairs and succumbing to the dubious charm of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. During one summit, Bolton recalls US secretary of state Mike Pompeo passing him a note offering his opinion of the President’s’ negotiations: “He is so full of s**t.” He was so obsessed with his public image that his top priority was “making a deal he could characterize as a huge success even if it was badly flawed”, Bolton writes.
It’s not just POTUS, either. Mary Jordan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, has written The Art of Her Deal, a biography of Melania, interviewing more than 100 people for insights into the sphinx-like First Lady, also out this week.
She writes: “A common narrative about Melania is that she simply wanted to marry a wealthy man, and that she was horrified when Trump entered politics in 2015 and disrupted her comfortable world. But there is ample evidence that from the very beginning, Melania not only accepted and embraced Trump’s political aspirations but was also an encouraging partner.”
The headline from the book is that Melania delayed moving to the White House after Trump became President in order to renegotiate her prenuptial agreement. She was rumoured to be on the verge of divorcing him, because she was so horrified by revelations about Trump’s infidelity, and the prospect of having to leave her comfortable life in New York for the goldfish bowl of Washington. Instead, she used this moment of maximum as leverage.
She had read all 17 of the books Trump had published and studied the failures of his past wives and girlfriends. Besides learning never to upstage him, she had also read about his treatment of his last wife, Marla Maples, who was financially stiffed in her divorce. In late 2016, Trump needed at least the appearance of a family life. He needed Melania’s help. So she bargained for more money in case they split up, and a guarantee that their son Barron would have a larger stake in the Trump family business. Jordan tries to demystify Melania’s relationship with her husband. A German journalist, Michael Streck, tells her about visiting the couple in their New York penthouse. Trump summoned Melania and told her to turn around so the journalist could get a good look at her. Streck says it felt like he was being invited to look at a prize cow, but Melania seemed fine with it.
Jordan spoke to staff at various Trump properties who told her that the couple’s lives barely intersect. They have separate bedrooms, separate staffs and separate schedules. While her husband refuses to wear a mask during the pandemic, Melania very publicly does. She tweets about “healing and peace” and campaigns against bullying. She is, Jordan says, a glamorous loner.
And yet, Melania has been the longest of Trump’s three marriages. He calls her after he makes a big speech to get her opinion. And he asked her to vet his vice-presidential candidates. She urged him to choose Mike Pence, because she felt Pence would not constantly scheme to be president. In her only phone conversation with Jordan, Melania says: “I know what I want and I don’t need to talk, and to, you know, be an attention-seeker. I’m not that way.” Pressed, she said: “I live meaningful life … I know that talking every time, blabbing something around isn’t good. That’s not my style.”
But the most damaging of all three books is yet to be seen. The President’s niece Mary Trump, 55, is set to release Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, at the end of July. The Amazon blurb says that she will describe how her uncle “became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security and social fabric”. She is the daughter of the President’s older brother, Fred Trump Jr, who suffered from alcoholism and died at 42 from a heart attack. Trump has said he regretted pushing Fred into the family real-estate business, since all Fred wanted was to become a pilot.
She provided confidential documents about Trump’s personal finances to The New York Times, which revealed the extent of his inheritance, some $400 million, and his tax schemes.
In 2000, Mary and her brother sued Trump over his handling of his father’s will. They said it was “procured by fraud and undue influence”, when their grandfather had dementia. Mary said that her family should be “ashamed of themselves” over the legal battle. In resolving the lawsuit, Mary signed a non-disclosure agreement which her uncle is now trying to enforce.
Mary has a PhD in clinical psychology and was last profiled on LinkedIn as a certified professional life coach. When her uncle was elected, a Twitter account with her name posted: “This is one of the worst nights of my life.”