Cliff Sims’ ‘Team of Vipers’ book ‘made up stories and fiction,’ Donald Trump says
President Trump lashed out Tuesday at a former aide for writing “made up stories and fiction” in a derisive book about the White House, while the Trump campaign warned it is preparing a lawsuit against the author for violating a nondisclosure agreement.
The book, “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House” by Cliff Sims, is the latest in a series of tell-all best-sellers to cause heartburn in the West Wing with accounts of backstabbing, egos run amok and unguarded comments by the president.
He wrote that former White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called his position as the president’s gatekeeper “the worst f---ing job I’ve ever had.”
After then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan criticized Mr. Trump’s comments about the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president excoriated Mr. Ryan on the phone, Mr. Sims said.
“Paul, do you know why Democrats have been kicking your a-- for decades?” the president said, according to Mr. Sims. “Because they know a little word called ‘loyalty.’ Why do you think Nancy [Pelosi] has held on this long? Have you seen her? She’s a disaster. Every time she opens her mouth another Republican gets elected. But they stick with her. ... Why can’t you be loyal to your president, Paul?”
The author, who during his White House tenure was suspected of leaks, also describes the irony of helping the president come up with an “enemies” list of suspected leakers within the West Wing. He says he once helped White House counselor Kellyanne Conway write a statement denying leaks while she at that moment was leaking information to journalists.
Mr. Sims, formerly a White House communications aide and videographer, reportedly received a $1 million advance from publisher Thomas Dunne Books, part of St. Martin’s Press.
Mr. Trump, described as furious about the book, said it’s full of lies.
“A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!”
Some White House aides hoped the president would resist the temptation to hit back at Mr. Sims on Twitter. They thought it would only help him sell his book. When Mr. Trump threatened legal action against author Michael Wolff for his unflattering portrayal of the Trump White House, the author replied, “Where do I send the box of chocolates?”
Mr. Sims said of the president’s tweet, “I knew that that was a possibility when I wrote this book. ... I know who Jesus says I am. Don’t matter to me what Donald Trump or anyone else says that I am.”
Michael Glassner, the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, said the campaign “is preparing to file suit” against Mr. Sims “for violating our NDA.” The Trump team filed an arbitration claim last year against former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman for her own tell-all book, “Unhinged,” in which she claimed Mr. Trump is a racist and a bigot.
It’s unclear whether an nondisclosure agreement is enforceable. Legal analysts say a government employee’s disclosure of unclassified material is protected by the First Amendment.
So far, the White House hasn’t challenged the accuracy of any specific disclosures by Mr. Sims, whom former colleagues describe as nakedly ambitious and uninterested in being a team player.
“If your goal is to get photos with the president, I know he took great pride in tweeting those out,” said a former White House staffer. “If there’s 450 political appointees [in the White House], and you ranked them in order of the most appropriate to write a book, he’d be like 446th.”
Another Republican close to the White House said the president’s communications team “had a very wary eye over Cliff Sims during his time there.”
“They thought he was in it for himself,” said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He was constantly trying to be in meetings, or one-up the other guy. He was always throwing an elbow.”
Mrs. Conway responded to Mr. Sims’ accusations of leaking: “The real leakers, past and present, get much more positive press than I do. While it’s rare, I prefer to knife people from the front, so they see it coming.”
Mr. Sims has been making the rounds on mostly left-leaning cable shows to promote his book. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday, he spoke with admiration of Mr. Trump.
“You just kind of can’t help but like the guy when you spend time with him,” he said. “He’s a great host, very gregarious.”
After working on the Trump campaign, Mr. Sims said, he joined the White House because it was an opportunity “to interact with the most powerful person on the planet.”
“I was ruthless at times and caught up in kind of the game and machinations of the whole proximity to power and every[thing] that does to people,” he said.
Mr. Sims eventually sought a job in the State Department but reportedly was blocked by Mr. Kelly, who is described in the book as disliking Mr. Sims. He then left the administration.
As word spread that Mr. Sims was writing a book, several White House aides grew worried about how he would portray them. In one account in the book, during a debate on immigration and refugees, Mr. Sims recounts that presidential adviser Stephen Miller said, “I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America’s soil.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded Monday, “I’m not aware of any statement like that that Stephen Miller has ever made, and it’s certainly not the policy of the administration.”
Although Mr. Sims skewered many of his former colleagues in the book, he is generally kinder toward the president. Asked on “Morning Joe” whether he was worried about Mr. Trump’s finger on the nuclear button, Mr. Sims replied, “I just never saw anything on the inside that made me scared in that way.
“Certainly there’s things I disagree with, certainly things that I wish he would have done different, but I think he takes those decisions, those life-and-death decisions, very seriously,” he said.