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'Anarchy and chaos': Michael Bender book describes turmoil in Trump White House

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  • Michael Bender interviewed Trump twice for “‘Frankly, We Did Win This Election’”
  • Trump called for the military to be deployed over racial justice riots, Bender writes.
  • And the president was furious about a news report that his family spent time in White House bunker.

Corrections & clarifications: This story has been updated to correct Brad Raffensperger’s title as Georgia’s secretary of state.

WASHINGTON – Furious arguments, abrupt decision changes, perpetual dismay and “anarchy and chaos” defined the finals days of the Trump administration, according to The Wall Street Journal’s senior White House correspondent, Michael Bender.

Bender’s book, “‘Frankly, We Did Win This Election’: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” compiles interviews with dozens of former Trump staffers and allies, as well as two interviews with former President Donald Trump himself.

The book depicts the inner workings of a White House and presidential campaign in turmoil, as Trump’s subordinates fought each other for influence and grappled with obeying presidential orders that often contradicted basic democratic and constitutional norms.

Bender recounted that Trump called for whoever “leaked” information on him staying in a bunker during protests in 2020 to be “executed” for their actions.

Trump was infuriated after The New York Times reported he, first lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron, had been put in a bunker beneath the East Wing as racial justice protests in Lafayette Square, near the White House, were cleared by federal, local and military police.

At a meeting with top law enforcement, military and policy aides, Trump “boiled over as soon as they arrived,” according to Bender. “It was the most upset some aides had ever seen the president.”

The book recounts: “‘Whoever did that, they should be charged with treason!’ Trump yelled. ‘They should be executed!’” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who “repeatedly tried to calm the president as startled aides avoided eye contact,” Bender wrote, promised Trump the officials present would find whoever leaked the story.

In 2018, Trump casually praised the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, for his economic policies and popularity within the fascist regime, according to the book.

“Well, Hitler did a lot of good things,” Trump reportedly remarked to White House chief of staff John Kelly, a former four-star Marine general. “You cannot say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler,” an astounded Kelly replied, “You just can’t.”

Much of the chaos of the Trump campaign and White House in 2020, Bender wrote, centered on the administration’s missteps in its pandemic response and the subsequent economic downturn and the social upheaval brought by the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis Black man murdered by a police officer.

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Trump had a visceral response to the Floyd video, calling the event “terrible.” He tweeted his support for the Floyd family, promising that “justice will be served.” His tone shifted rapidly as protesters calling for racial justice filled the streets of cities and towns.

Bender’s work depicts frantic scenes of Trump administration aides deeply concerned over the president’s cavalier desire to deploy military troops against peaceful protesters and rioters alike.

“The country had turned into a tinderbox. And inside the Oval Office was a president who liked playing with matches,” Bender wrote, describing aides he spoke with as horrified by the president’s behavior.

Trump calls for military intervention

Multiple times, Trump called for the military to be deployed and to use live ammunition against protesters, aides said.

In one tense exchange, senior adviser Stephen Miller, an ardent Trump ally, told a group of aides that “these cities are burning,” which justified intense military intervention.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly told Miller to shut up, using expletives.

“Let me show you what I can do with the National Guard before we make that next jump,” said Milley, who was unnerved by the prospect of U.S. troops being deployed against civilians, according to Bender.

More: Gen. Mark Milley, Donald Trump at odds over crackdown on 2020 racial justice protests, book reveals

Campaign in disarray

In the weeks approaching the presidential election, the Trump campaign was beleaguered in internal disputes and self-confidence issues, Bender wrote.

After a story pitched by Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Robert Costello about Joe Biden’s son Hunter failed to catch steam in the media, followed by Trump’s hospitalization with the coronavirus, the campaign became insular and doubtful, according to the book. At rallies, Trump lamented his poor polling among constituents such as suburban women.

“I didn’t love it,” Trump conceded to Bender on his experience with the coronavirus. Bender described the Trump campaign’s data and media advertising campaigns in disarray despite a $2 billion war chest.

The replacement of campaign manager Brad Parscale with Bill Stepien in the fall led to further financial mismanagement, the book says. Bender quoted Stepien as complaining in the run-up to Election Day that he “has $65 million to spend on digital, and I don’t know whether to put it in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and at what levels.”

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“Bill is locked in decision paralysis,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, told Katie Walsh, White House deputy chief of staff, offering Walsh the job to replace Stepien.

Post-election chaos

The disorganization of the campaign bled into efforts to contest the election after the president’s loss, the book says. A defiant Trump ordered aides to pursue dozens of lawsuits and to pressure government aides and allies at the state and federal levels to help him overturn the election results.

Officials at the Justice Department were horrified, Bender wrote, when department attorney Jeffrey Clark aided Meadows in concocting a plan to oust acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and overturn the election results in Georgia.

In addition to pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump leaned on Supreme Court justices in North Carolina and pressured aides to convince GOP lawmakers in swing states to help overturn the election.

The insurrection by Trump supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and its aftermath further demoralized those closest to Trump, Bender wrote, though many saw the attack as a “horrifying but inevitable conclusion” to the president’s time in office.

Bender described an aggrieved and somewhat directionless Trump determined to win back power.

“What am I going to do all day?” Trump asked one aide upon landing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after leaving the White House. The former president’s future remains unclear, though his power within conservative politics is unquestioned.

“Trump was in transition. Weeks earlier he’d been the leader of the free world. Now he was King of Mar-a-Lago,” Bender wrote.

Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.