Nothing rounds out a reading list like a detailed cataloging of how close to the destruction of the republic we came. Just in time for summer, the post-Trump era of tell-all tomes and political page-turners is fully upon us, with at least three blockbuster books due out from journalists in coming weeks.
Judging from the available excerpts, these are well-sourced, jaw-dropping affairs, filled with juicy gossip about former President Donald Trump, his coterie of cronies and the people who did their best to avoid America's total meltdown. They include the kind of details that would stop the presses — for those people who still get their news from newspapers.
Time and again the political creatures in Trump’s orbit kept silent until it was too late to do anything.
As per tradition, the details of these books are selectively leaked to various outlets ahead of publication to hype their releases. I'm guilty of consuming every one of the stories that are drip-dripping out. But the fact that we seem to always learn about these things far after their metaphorical "use by" date fills me with a latent rage.
One juicy bit of info comes from CNN, which on Wednesday night "obtained" a copy of the coming book "I Alone Can Fix It, " written by Washington Post journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. According to Leonnig and Rucker's reporting, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, was very, very worried about Trump's potentially fomenting a coup after he lost the election last year.
The authors write that Milley viewed Trump as "the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose," according to CNN. With Milley finding parallels between the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and Trump's big lie, he apparently told aides, "This is a Reichstag moment."
And that's just one nugget. All three books deal heavily with Trump's post-election lies and the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Michael Wolff claims in his book "Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump White House" that the line "we're going to walk down to the Capitol" in the president's speech that preceded the attack "was an ad-lib, not in the text his staff had prepared," New York Times reviewer Nicholas Lemann writes.
Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender's book, "Frankly We Did Win the Election," pays special attention to the so-called Front Row Joes who attended all of Trump's rallies and were often the subject of his earlier reporting. This anecdote, reprinted in The Guardian last weekend, is particularly striking given the current attempts to whitewash the insurrection:
One Front Row Joe, Saundra from Michigan, was a 41-year-old Walmart worker. On 6 January, in Washington D.C., she made her way up the west side of the US Capitol.
“It looked so neat,” she said.
She also said she and other Trump supporters who stormed Congress did not do so “to steal things” or “do damage”. They had a different aim.
“We were just there to overthrow the government.”
And most recently, on Thursday, a new excerpt from Leonnig and Rucker's book, published in The Washington Post, detailed how various White House officials — including the vice president's national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, and Ivanka Trump — tried to get Trump to respond to the violence:
Other White House officials also pleaded with Trump to condemn the violence unequivocally.
“You need to tweet something,” Kellogg told the president. “Nobody’s going to be watching TV out there, but they will be looking at their phones. You need to tweet something.”
He added: “Once mobs get moving, you can’t turn them off.”
None of the books is out yet. Leonnig and Rucker's will be officially released July 20; Wolff's is due out a week later, on the 27th. Bender's book won't be released until Aug. 10, almost seven months after Trump's term ended and just under six months after the GOP-controlled Senate voted to acquit the former president in his second impeachment trial.
I've got no beef with the authors. This isn't like when Bob Woodward sat on audio of Trump's true feelings about the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic for use in his book "Rage." Woodward conducted that interview early in the pandemic, when the former president was condemning mitigation efforts. Releasing that information immediately could have helped save lives.
No, my ire is focused on the sources for these journalists. Time and again the political creatures in Trump's orbit kept silent until it was too late to do anything. I'm still fuming over former national security adviser John Bolton's decision not to testify in Trump's first impeachment trial, only to confirm that all the charges against Trump were true in his tell-all book, which was released over a year later.
Similarly, it seems like maybe — just maybe — a lot of the information provided off the record to Leonnig, Rucker, Wolff and Bender might have been useful for senators in the second impeachment trial.
What if Milley had been called upon to testify about his misgivings? What if the people who were with Trump on Jan. 6, like Kellogg, had been required to detail, in public and under oath, the stories that are now appearing in print?
I'm glad these accounts are finally getting published. They're vital parts of the record, and they push back against the historical whitewashing that is even now very much underway. These sources make for buzzy headlines and important context. That doesn't change the scorn I have for their silence when it counted.