For President Trump, leaks are maddening and anonymity infuriating. So the release of “A Warning,” the new book by “Anonymous,” the unidentified senior official in the Trump administration who first wrote about Mr. Trump’s White House in an opinion article in The New York Times, is not a good day for the president.
Here are some takeaways about what the book shows, and doesn’t.
The picture it paints of the president and the White House is bleak but not new.
“The White House, quite simply, is broken,” the author says at one point. At another, the author writes that the president often acts on his impulses, even when he’s been talked out of them, whether it’s in relation to policy matters or possibly dismissing a staff member.
“His cyclical urges can’t be suppressed for long,” the author writes.
His lack of interest in other branches of government is a constant theme.
“Don’t worry about Congress,” he is supposed to have told an aide. “Just do what you need to do.”
These ideas don’t tread new ground — the themes were hit on, in more elaborate detail, in books by Michael Wolff and Bob Woodward earlier in the Trump presidency. Both writers painted the Trump presidency as aberrant and potentially dangerous, with detailed scenes describing actions by the president.
Throughout “A Warning,” there are descriptions of Mr. Trump repeatedly testing the bounds of the law, or in some cases, ignoring them outright. The author attributes it in part to his lack of familiarity with the executive branch after a lifetime in business.
“In fairness, when Trump suggests doing something unlawful, it’s not necessarily nefarious,” the author writes.
Still, the author describes Mr. Trump bluntly as unlearned, intellectually incurious and sometimes consumed with frustration about leaks.
Anonymous recounts few new scenes — other than an account of aides discussing using the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump and officials possibly resigning en masse. More often he describes aides asking, “What the hell happened?” in response to what the president had just done.
For instance, the author “vividly” remembers one instance when “an official” called the author the evening after a “top intelligence leader” went to testify on Capitol Hill. “The president’s red hot,’ she told me,” the author writes. “‘It sounds like he wants someone fired by morning.’”
“‘What the hell happened?’ I asked. She explained that the agency head offered an assessment about one of America’s foreign adversaries. The conclusion was at odds with what Trump had been saying publicly.”
“Anonymous” writes authoritatively…
One of the key differences between previous books and this one is that it is described as an insider’s account.
There are moments it is clear that Anonymous has either witnessed Mr. Trump in private settings, or talked to a number of people who have.
At one point the author writes that the president announced he wanted to reduce the number of judges — a statement that echoes Mr. Trump’s well-documented disinterest in the authority of other branches of government.
Other moments he recounts that seem to indicate a fly on the wall perspective are the descriptions of Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Kushner.
“Jared, you don’t know what you’re talking about, O.K.?” the exasperated president is quoted as saying at one point. “I mean seriously. You don’t know.”
At other times, the author writes, Mr. Kushner’s drift into a number of policy issues had him defending Saudi officials and trying to empathize with their concerns about Yemen.
The president has frequently snapped at Mr. Kushner in settings around other aides, and the account will sound familiar to a number of current and former White House officials.
… but sometimes strikes a wrong note.
There are key moments where “Anonymous” appears to be masking a lack of direct knowledge by simply repeating public accounts of Mr. Trump’s words or behavior.
That includes references to his derogatory remarks about women’s appearances, many of which have been made in public over many years.
It also includes some of the administrations more difficult moments, such as Mr. Trump’s comments around a white supremacist rally and violence in Charlottesville, Va., without providing any actual new insight other than that aides were slack-jawed at his comments.
More specifically, certain incidents are mischaracterized, such as what happened around the departure of Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence, and his deputy, Sue Gordon. He suggested they left as a result of a simple firing, while the reality was a more complicated dynamic.
Elsewhere in the book, the author states that Mr. Trump was actively considering replacing Vice President Mike Pence with Nikki R. Haley, his former ambassador to the United Nations, but spends just a paragraph on it and doesn’t explain what he or she knows, or how.
And the author asserts that the president had to have been involved in an unnamed ally of the president suggesting on television in June 2017 that Mr. Trump might fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, but the writer did not provide any supporting evidence.
A few clues suggest who the author could be.
There is a reason for the lack of specific scenes and tendency to write in generalities. The reason, Anonymous writes, is the hope of not being a “distraction” by being identified.
“For now, if asked, I will strenuously deny I am the author of this book, including when the president demands we each disavow it,” the author writes.
Still, there are a few tells about who the person could be, suggesting the author is a Republican who comes from the party’s establishment wing.
The author writes at the beginning of the book that it was possible to overlook any number of Trump controversies. But the final straw for Anonymous was the president’s reaction to the death of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, former prisoner of war, and a nemesis of the president.
“I’d spent enough time watching one pointless indignity after another,” the author writes. “This one, targeting a veteran and former P.O.W., was the last straw. What did it say about our president?”
The author doesn’t explain why it was only Mr. Trump’s conduct toward Mr. McCain in death, as opposed to his myriad criticisms of the senator in life, that had a chilling effect.
But Anonymous writes with what might be firsthand knowledge about the president’s frustrations at the attention and public embrace Mr. McCain received upon his death. The author also appears to have access to the discussions around whether to lower the flag at the White House to honor Mr. McCain’s passing.
That leaves the impression that it’s someone on the White House campus, and possibly inside the West Wing.
The president will hate the book.
Anonymous’s conclusion that the president is running perhaps the most inept and dysfunctional White House in history will vex and bother Mr. Trump. But what might bother him the most is the description of his lack of fitness for the role and his lack of interest in adapting to the job, or learning about the government he overseas.
Repeatedly, Anonymous describes Mr. Trump as not fully understanding the basic mechanics of governing — asking the attorney general to do jobs outside his portfolio, for instance, or asking Mr. Kushner to take over any number of roles. “He tells the secretary of defense to do things that are the responsibility of the secretary of state,” the author writes. “He tells the attorney general to do things that are the job of the director of national intelligence. Sometimes he tells his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to do all of their jobs at once, including reimagining care for America’s veterans, negotiating Middle East peace, spearheading criminal justice reform, and undertaking delicate conversations with foreign allies.”
Mr. Trump, who is sensitive to criticism that he ignores briefing books and might not be up to the task, would bristle at the portrayal of him as a version of Chance, the simple-minded, television-consuming gardener in the book and movie “Being There” who, through a series of misunderstandings, adopts the name Chauncey Gardiner and becomes top adviser to a Washington figure.
But Mr. Trump’s aides are cautioning him to ignore the book, because it will only give it more oxygen.
So far, that has worked.