Trump’s former spokesperson promises to reveal the truth behind the lies in “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” but seems unable to sift fact from fiction in her own memories.
Stephanie Grisham, who spent four years lying to reporters on behalf of Donald and Melania Trump, promises readers of her new memoir, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” that she’s ready to tell the unvarnished truth.
Or at least, the truth as she remembers it. Grisham, who served in a variety of White House roles as chief spokesperson for both the president and the first lady, told New York magazine that because she had not been planning a tell-all book before she quit the White House on January 6, she did not keep a diary and wrote entirely from memory.
Unfortunately, while much of what Grisham writes about the Trumps’ off-screen behavior rings true, her account of what she witnessed in the Trump White House is riddled with factual errors and what appear to be trace elements of cover stories she invented for the press that eventually lodged themselves in her memory, displacing in her mind the contrary evidence of her own eyes and ears.
We know this because several of the events Grisham describes in her memoir unfolded in public and were documented in still photographs, on video, and in White House transcripts. By examining that evidence, we can see that at least a half-dozen of the stories Grisham recounts include details that are either incorrect or invented.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is Grisham’s new account of what came to be known as “Sharpiegate,” when, on September 4, 2019, Trump called reporters into the Oval Office and held up a weather map which he had altered with a black marker, presenting it as proof that he had been right, and the National Weather Service wrong, when he warned residents of Alabama earlier that week that they were in the likely path of Hurricane Dorian.
Grisham tries to convince readers of her memoir that the whole event was more about incompetence than dishonesty. She writes that before the reporters were summoned that day, Trump expressed anger that the map, a week-old projection of the storm’s likely path “sitting on an easel by his desk,” showed the hurricane threatening Florida and Georgia but not, as he’d tweeted, Alabama. Trump then took a Sharpie from his desk and drew a black line to include Alabama in the path, insisting to his staff that this was the original projection for the storm. Grisham claims that Trump was right about that, despite the fact that none of the forecast cones predicting the storm’s path ever included Alabama.
Then, she writes, Trump was reminded that he was behind schedule and the press was rushed in. “No one thought,” Grisham writes, “that the map was still displayed for the press to see.”
“When the reporters came in, some of them zeroed in on the map,” she continues. “The story was too good to resist: The president was creating his own reality again! He was doctoring official documents! Even though, in that case, Trump actually hadn’t planned to show the map to the press.”
Grisham even laments, “No reporter believed our explanations by that point. They believed that everyone around the president was a liar.” But any reporter she offered this explanation to had good reason not to believe it because video evidence shows that it was clearly a lie.
What the video shows is that, contrary to Grisham’s claims, the map was not accidentally displayed on an easel when reporters came in. It was facing away from them on the floor behind Trump’s desk, until Trump began the briefing by asking Kevin McAleenan, the acting homeland security secretary, to hand it to him so he could hold it up for the cameras.
Grisham even attributes her failure to hold a single press briefing during her tenure as White House press secretary to her fear of ending up, like her former boss Sean Spicer, satirized on “Saturday Night Live” as a hapless liar. If she appeared on the briefing room’s stage, Grisham writes, “I knew that sooner or later the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic.”
(Grisham fails to mention that she had already been caught lying for Trump in a way that made her seem ridiculous in 2018, when she defended his delusional claim that he had “predicted” the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum during a visit to his Scottish golf course the day before the vote. In fact, as contemporary news reports, and date-stamped tweets from both Trump and Grisham that day make clear, Trump actually arrived in Scotland the morning after the referendum. Grisham completely omits this episode from her memoir.)
Grisham writes that her worst fears seemed to be coming true, in the autumn of 2019, as the White House debated how and when to release the transcript of Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which had triggered an impeachment inquiry. Trump summoned her to the Oval Office and directed her to “go out on your stage” and give a dramatic reading of the transcript. “You need to act it out. With voices,” Grisham recalls Trump telling her. “You need to really reenact the phone call so people will understand how perfect it was. Elegant, really. So you’ll need to use two voices and act it out.”
“This was it, “Grisham writes, “this was going to be my ticket to being satirized on ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
Grisham recounts that she only avoided having to perform this one-woman show — “presumably with a Ukrainian accent for Zelensky’s portions? And what voice would I be using for Trump?” — after a colleague convinced Trump that it would be better to have a member of Congress read the whole transcript into the record for posterity.
“The next day,” Grisham writes, instead of her “one of our most reliable ‘yes’ guys, California congressman Devin Nunes, read the full transcript before the House Intelligence Committee so the perfect phone call could be remembered forever.”
But video of the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearing on November 15, 2019, shows that while Nunes did read the transcript of a phone call between Trump and Zelensky, it was not, as Grisham wrote, the record of what Trump referred to as his “perfect call” from July 25. Instead of that deeply incriminating call, Nunes read the semi-comic transcript of an earlier, anodyne conversation between the two presidents, which had taken place on April 21 — three months before the call in which Trump pressed Zelensky to do him “a favor” by announcing sham investigations of Democrats, including Joe Biden.
'When I owned Miss Universe, they had great people. Ukraine was always well represented.' Devin Nunes reads the transcript of a call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy during today's #impeachmenthearing. Live updates: https://t.co/HNWWM5kfHT pic.twitter.com/WqeZrBEZej— Reuters (@Reuters) November 15, 2019
Other parts of Grisham’s memoir that distort the historical record suggest that while she did get what she calls a “front-row seat” to watch history unfold inside the Trump White House, some of what she observed failed to make a clear enough impression on her for her to even accurately remember basic details.
One example of this is Grisham’s recollection of watching Trump try to impress President Xi Jinping of China by bragging about “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen,” over dessert at Mar-a-Lago during an April 2017 visit, “while talking about a missile strike on Syria he’d launched the week before.” But, as Trump told Maria Bartiromo a few days later, the missile strike, in retaliation for a Syrian government chemical attack, was carried out during the dinner that night.
Grisham also has a vivid recollection of being in the White House briefing room for Sean Spicer’s infamous first appearance there, on Saturday, January 21, 2017, when he tried and failed to browbeat reporters into accepting that the relatively small crowd at Trump’s inaugural the day before “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period!”
Grisham writes that she had no idea what Spicer was going to say but recalls that she was seated just to the left of the stage, next to Omarosa Manigault Newman. “Hope Hicks was next to her, then Kellyanne Conway, and finally Sarah Sanders at the other end. I remember being proud that the press team supporting Sean that day consisted of all women.”
Grisham appears to have conflated her memory of Spicer’s self-immolation that day with her presence at his second briefing two days later — when she was there, seated alongside Newman, Conway, and Sanders.
Grisham also flubs the timeline in a story about her attempt to mediate an Oval Office dispute between the first lady and the president over a proposed ban to ban flavored e-cigarettes on September 11, 2019. Grisham writes that Melania Trump kept pushing her husband to immediately call in the press and announce the ban, despite the misgivings of political advisers who were concerned it would anger his base.
In an effort to keep the first lady at bay, and give Trump more time to hear from other advisers, Grisham recalls that she “reminded her that it was 9/11 and she and the president still needed to take part in the moments of silence to honor the attacks. This solemn occasion was not the time to make such an announcement.”
The stalling tactic failed, however, and Grisham writes that Trump finally agreed to his wife’s demand to summon the press corps to the Oval Office without delay and announce a ban (which he would later backtrack on) before continuing with the scheduled commemorations of the September 11 attacks.
But White House transcripts and video of that day show that this incident took place after the 9/11 ceremonies, not before them as Grisham recalls. The Trumps observed the moment of silence outside the White House, as scheduled, at 8:46 a.m. that morning, nearly four hours before the press corps was called in to the Oval Office, at 12:26 p.m., to hear the president awkwardly cite pressure from the first lady as a factor in his decision to ban the e-cigarettes.
A more troubling distortion by Grisham is her account of a bizarre fight Trump picked with two Ohio Democrats, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, hours after he visited victims of a mass shooting in the city on August 7, 2019.
According to Grisham, the president and the first lady were both furious with her for not having had press in the intensive care unit at the hospital in Dayton, “to capture all of the medical staff clapping and cheering for them and taking selfies.” Grisham reports that both were unmoved by her explanation that press were not supposed to be crowded around patients, to protect their privacy and their health. “What a waste,” Trump said.
Then, after they boarded Air Force One to fly from Ohio to the site of another mass shooting that week, in El Paso, Texas, Grisham writes, “my stomach dropped when I saw that the two local Democratic politicians who, at our invitation, had spent the day with us on the steps of the hospital we had just visited were holding a press conference. They had clearly preplanned it, and I watched the president’s mood torpedo as he watched it unfold. They said that Trump’s visit was a publicity stunt and had done nothing to heal the community.”
While Grisham accurately sums up how Trump seemed to feel about watching Brown and Whaley speak to reporters — the president tweeted that day to accuse them of “totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital” — her characterization of what they said bears no resemblance to reality.
To start with, they did not take questions at Miami Valley Hospital, where the gunshot victims were being treated, but in Dayton City Hall after they left the hospital. But more importantly, the full video of their remarks shows that they never called Trump’s visit a publicity stunt or accused him of failing to heal the community.
While both Democrats said that they had pressed Trump for real action to ban assault weapons — like the an AR-15-style rifle the Dayton gunman had used to shoot 26 people in 32 seconds, killing nine — neither of them said anything critical about his visit.
To the contrary, Brown, who had previously been critical of Trump’s divisive rhetoric, said that the president “was received well by the patients, as you’d expect. They’re hurting. He was comforting. He did the right things. Melania did the right things. And it’s his job, in part, to comfort people. I’m glad he did it in those hospital rooms.”
A reporter asked Whaley if she thought “this helped the healing, having the president come here?” The mayor replied, “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came today.”
With Trump somehow taking offense at what was said at the news conference, or just the fact that he was not part of it, Grisham relates that the president “totally unleashed on me,” launching into a foul-mouthed rant and demanding that she immediately leave the forward cabin on the plane and make sure the reporters traveling with them on Air Force One knew how well received he had been at the hospital. “Go back there, go right now and tell them how much everyone in that hospital loved me,” Trump instructed Grisham. “Go, do it. Do it now.”
Grisham writes that she couldn’t bring herself to do that, fearing that reporters would laugh at her if she had gone back to them “on a day when we all should have been focussed on shooting victims and their families to say, ‘Hey guys, just want you to know the hospital staff really loved President Trump.’”
Instead Grisham and Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media id, channeled his bizarre tantrum into attacking the Democrats on Twitter from the plane. “Very SAD to see Ohio Senator Brown, & Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley – LYING & completely mischaracterizing what took place w/ the President’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital today,” Scavino wrote from his official White House account. “They are disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can. The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great President!”
Grisham shared that message from the press secretary’s official account and added that the president had “graciously asked Sen Brown & Mayor Whaley to join as he and the First Lady visited victims, medical staff & first responders. It is genuinely sad to see them immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics.”
During his visit to El Paso that day, Trump was asked why he had lashed out at Brown and Whaley on Twitter. Trump replied by explaining that he was upset by remarks he attributed to Brown and Whaley, which they did not, in fact, make. “I get on Air Force One, where they do have a lot of televisions. I turn on the television, and there they are saying, ‘Well, I don’t know if it was appropriate for the president to be here,’” Trump said.
What is truly bizarre about Grisham’s faulty account of this incident is that, even with the benefit of hindsight, she still seems unable to admit that Trump’s deranged tantrum was not an understandable reaction to unfair criticism by his political opponents but evidence of a dangerously unstable narcissist who was never fit for the job she spent more than four years helping him pretend he was capable of doing.