WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s first chief of staff says all those reports about chaos in the early days of the Trump White House were true — and then some.
“Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Reince Priebus said, according to an updated book to be published next month about White House chiefs of staff.
In an adaptation from the next edition of the book, “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” Chris Whipple writes in Vanity Fair about a dramatic showdown that nearly led to the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions last May after the president berated him for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
Whipple recounts Priebus’ tale of getting a panicked visit from White House counsel Don McGahn.
As Priebus told it: “Don McGahn came in my office pretty hot, red, out of breath, and said, ‘We’ve got a problem.’ I responded, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Well, we just got a special counsel, and (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions just resigned.’ I said, ‘What!? What the hell are you talking about?’?”
Priebus said he dashed out to the White House parking lot to coax Sessions back into the White House.
Priebus continued: “I said, ‘You cannot resign. It’s not possible. We are going to talk about this right now.’ So I dragged him back up to my office from the car. (Vice President Mike) Pence and (presidential adviser Steve) Bannon came in, and we started talking to him to the point where he decided that he would not resign right then and he would instead think about it.”
Whipple writes that Sessions did later deliver a resignation letter to the Oval Office, but Priebus persuaded Trump to give it back.
The episode is one of many chaotic scenes recounted in the latest book to chronicle the inner workings of the Trump White House.
Priebus also is quoted about his unsuccessful campaign to rein in Trump’s tweets, including an early effort by staff to write tweets for him.
“The team would give the president five or six tweets every day to choose from,” said Priebus, “and some of them would really push the envelope. The idea would be at least they would be tweets that we could see and understand and control. But that didn’t allow the president to be fully in control of his own voice. Everybody tried at different times to cool down the Twitter habit — but no one could do it.”
Whipple writes that Priebus got a call from a livid Trump just after 6 on the morning after the inauguration complaining about news reports that showed his inaugural crowds didn’t measure up to those of his predecessor. Priebus said Trump insisted, “There’s more people there. There are people who couldn’t get in the gates. … There’s all kind of things that were going on that made it impossible for these people to get there.”
Whipple writes that Priebus thought arguing about crowd size was not a good fight to pick on the day after the inauguration, but the chief of staff knew he had to decide: “Am I going to go to war over this with the president of the United States?”
Priebus was ousted by Trump last July and replaced by retired Gen. John Kelly, whose own job security is now in doubt as Trump complains about Kelly’s handling of allegations of domestic abuse by top aide Rob Porter. Porter resigned last week.
For all of the drama and tumult of his days with Trump, Priebus told Whipple, “I still love the guy.”