The Five Wildest Bits from Cliff Sims's Jaw-Dropping White House Tell-All

'Team of Vipers' spills top-shelf tea about the former aide's time in the petty, backstabbing world of the Trump White House.

by Justin Caffier
Jan 30 2019, 12:00am

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

The Trump administration has gifted the public a flock of tell-all books either written by or sourced from people in the president's orbit, from the memoirs of James Comey and Omarosa to journalist Bob Woodward's terrifying tour of Trumpworld. Even by the standards of those volumes, though, a lurid new tome by former White House communications aide Cliff Sims is dropping jaws. Though the book was officially released Tuesday, excerpts from Sims’s Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House had already made their way around the internet as prime examples of how cutthroat and messy this White House can be.

Sims got a publicity gift when Donald Trump took to Twitter Tuesday morning to diss his former aide, referring to the former “low level staffer” as a “gofer” and “mess.” Trump’s tweet also alleged that Sims broke an NDA by authoring the exposé, with Trump campaign COO Michael Glassner chiming in minutes later to announce that the campaign was preparing a lawsuit against Sims for the breach. Though Trump claims Team of Vipers to be “another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” he’s clearly upset by it, and understandably so. The excerpts and sneak peeks the media got in advance of publication are nothing short of wild. Here are some of the juiciest snippets from Vipers have been released so far.

Trump Loves Telling People About Sex in the White House

In a piece published by the Washington Post based partly on Sims’s book, we learn of the president’s penchant for giving tours of the White House living quarters to literally hundreds of guests. A common stop along the VIP Trump tour include a room adjacent to the Oval Office that he says is ground zero for the Lewinski scandal:

Flashing a grin, he wants his friends to see where Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky reportedly began their sexual encounters.

“We’ve remodeled it since then,” he said on a tour in December, said a person with direct knowledge of the event. In a visit in 2017, Trump told a TV anchor, “I’m told this is where Bill and Monica...” — stopping himself from going further.

The book also seems to indicate that the viral “Gorilla Channel” meme was not that far off the mark—Trump is really, really focused on watching TV:

He brags about how many television sets there are in the West Wing and his fancy system of toggling between channels made for him — he calls it a “Super TiVo,” according to White House aides and Sims’s book.

“I think it’s one of the greatest inventions,” Trump has said, according to Sims. The author said the comment was made “with a smirk, as if to acknowledge his reputation as a television addict.”

Oh, but There's a Lot More About Trump's TV Addiction

As a former—and arguably current—TV star, one of Trump’s key competencies is his attention to what does and does not look good on screen. To that end, his voracious television appetite has left him with a number of opinions on the subject. Here's a snippet of Sims via Axios:

He consumed TV like the late Roger Ebert must have watched movies... He commented on the sets, the graphics, the wardrobe choices, the lighting, and just about every other visual component of a broadcast. Sure, he liked to hear pundits saying nice things about him or White House officials defending him from attacks, but everything came back to how does it look?

According to Sims, news channel chyrons are of particular interest to the president, with gallons of printer ink apparently spilled in service of this obsession. Again via Axios:

The most Trumpian tactic the comms team employed was arguing with TV networks about the "chyrons," the words displayed at the bottom of the screen that act as headlines for whatever the commentators are discussing.

"People watch TV on mute," the President told me, "so it’s those words, those sometimes beautiful, sometimes nasty little words that matter."...

When the President would deliver a speech somewhere outside of D.C., the research team would take screenshots of all the chyrons that aired while he was speaking. Then, adding those images to headlines and tweets from influential reporters and pundits, they would race to print out a packet before Trump made it back to the White House.

Trump Likes 'Horrifying' Anti-Drug Ads

The Atlantic’s piece about the new book highlights one jarring scene in which Kellyanne Conway was encouraging Trump to address the opioid crisis with a video of the president requesting stories by those personally effected by the epidemic. Trump had a better idea:

“We need to scare kids so much that they will never touch a single drug in their entire life,” he told Conway, according to Sims. “Just give this to Cliff and let him make the most horrifying ads you’ve ever seen. Could you do that?”

Sims “just nodded.” “No, I mean it,” Trump continued. “We need people dying in a ditch. I want bodies stacked on top of bodies … Do it like they did cigarettes. They had body bags piled all over the streets and ugly people with giant holes in their faces and necks.

“Next thing you know,” he concluded, “the kids don’t want to be cool and smoke anymore.”

The Enemies List

As Axios reported weeks ago, Team of Vipers contains a passage in which Sims sits down for a clandestine talk with the president to create naughty and nice lists of staffers (in Sharpie, of course) in an attempt to root out leakers:

“Give me their names,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “I want these people out of here. I’m going to take care of this. We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-­feeders.”

Only in retrospect did I see how remarkable this was. I was sitting there with the President of the United States basically compiling an enemies list—but these enemies were within his own administration. If it had been a horror movie, this would have been the moment when everyone suddenly realizes the call is coming from inside the house.

The President proceeded to name White House staffer after White House staffer. Almost no one was deemed beyond reproach—not his chief of staff, not senior aides, almost no one other than those with whom he shared a last name. He wanted me to help him judge their loyalty. How, I wondered, had it come to this?

Kellyanne Conway Is Not to Be Trifled With

In one of the more damning excerpts of the book, published in Vanity Fair, Sims spends a great number of words dissecting the ruthlessness and tenacity of Conway, one of the president's longest-serving aides:

It became hard to look long at her without getting the sense that she was a cartoon villain brought to life. Her agenda—which was her survival over all others, including the president—became more and more transparent. Once you figured that out, everything about her seemed so calculated; every statement, even a seemingly innocuous one, seemed poll-tested by a focus group that existed inside her mind. She seemed to be peren­nially cloaked in an invisible fur coat, casting an all-­knowing smile, as if she’d collected 98 Dalmatians with only 3 more to go.

Sims describes how, while working on Conway’s laptop to compose a statement for her repudiating allegations that she talked trash about Trump, he caught evidence she was a frequent leaker on her still-open iMessage:

At that point, personal phones had not yet been banned in the West Wing, so Kellyanne was sitting at her desk texting away. And since her iMes­sage account was tied to both her phone and her laptop, which she must not have even considered, I could inadvertently see every conversation she was having.

Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half­-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing “fake news.” Jour­nalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, and Bloomberg were all popping up on the screen. And these weren’t policy conversations, or attempts to fend off attacks on the president. As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, all by name.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the book was number six on Amazon's list of best-sellers.

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