Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump took over the nation’s COVID-19 response in the early days of the pandemic, according to a new tell-all book from former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
“When I worked for the first lady in the East Wing, we had all come to call Jared and Ivanka ‘the interns’ because they represented in our minds obnoxious, entitled know-it-alls,” Grisham writes in the book, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” according to an excerpt published Friday by Politico.
“Mrs. Trump found that nickname amusing and occasionally used it herself,” Grisham adds. “Now, during one of the most important crises to hit the country in a century, the interns were behaving true to form.”
Grisham describes how, as COVID-19 began to spread across the globe in late February 2020, Kushner pushed Trump to travel to India — even though the president didn’t want to. Kushner also ended up negotiating directly with the Indian government about what the White House’s security assets on the ground would be, a duty normally reserved for the Secret Service.
“It was another example of Jared sticking his nose into things that weren’t his expertise,’ Grisham writes. “It felt completely irresponsible and against protocol, which is the epitome of Jared Kushner in the Trump White House.”
In early March, after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Ivanka and Jared insisted during a meeting in the Oval Office that Trump deliver a televised address to the nation — even though there was no plan for what he would say, let alone a strategy for responding to the crisis.
“In the middle of all the discussion, Ivanka kept chiming in, ‘But I think there should probably be an address to the nation tonight,'” Grisham writes. “Finally, Ivanka turned to her most powerful ally besides her father. ‘Jared, don’t you agree?’ Any guesses as to what Jared replied?”
“At one point I called Ivanka out on her plan with what seemed an obvious question. ‘What is it we’d be saying?’ Because if she had a message she wanted her father to deliver, it was still a mystery to me. She just looked at me, seemingly confused,” Grisham writes.
Eventually, Trump directed the group — which also included Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci — to go into the Cabinet Room and “figure out what to do” — outside the commander in chief’s presence.
“One of my other biggest personal regrets is that I didn’t have the courage to speak out against Jared, Ivanka and Hope (Hicks) about the potential dangers of addressing the nation without any Covid response strategy in place, and what a disservice it could be to the country and the president,” Grisham writes. “What struck me in that (cabinet room) meeting was that Jared, who was sitting next to the vice president of the United States, commandeered the meeting and was calling all the shots. As many times as I had seen him behave that way with members of senior staff, that particular time made me uneasy because it was with the vice president. It was disrespectful, and I remember feeling both embarrassed and disgusted.”
Grisham adds that, “Ivanka was also doing her ‘my father’ wants this and ‘my father’ thinks that routine, making it impossible for staff members to argue a contrary view.”
Grisham says the situation left her feeling “helpless” and “demoralized” — and “outraged” at Kushner’s behavior.
“He was not an expert on any of those things — shutting down borders, the economic consequences, the health consequences — yet he alone seemed to be deciding the nation’s first actions to address one of the most devastating crises in our history,” she writes.
Kushner ultimately wrote Trump’s speech — but left no time for fact-checking or vetting, or even for Trump to read it and make changes.
“It was a total clusterf*ck from start to finish because Ivanka and her crew wanted her father to be on TV,” Grisham writes. “And of course the speech that night contained a number of misstatements and sloppy wording — some caused by the president stumbling over a few phrases — that sowed confusion about such things as which countries would be affected by the new travel restrictions and if international trade would be banned.”
After the speech, the White House was flooded with calls from federal agencies seeking clarification about the speech — and a line of reporters formed outside Grisham’s office.
“Of course, it was our problem, not Jared’s or Ivanka’s or Hope’s,” she writes. “No, they were in the dining room off of the Oval Office, Trump’s usual hangout, congratulating themselves and telling the president how awesome he was.”
“I had shared with Mrs. Trump many times my opinion that if we lost reelection in 2020 it would be because of Jared,” Grisham writes. “It was my fervent opinion that his arrogance and presumption had grown over the years, and he threw his power about with absolutely no shame. I would venture to say that being in the White House changed Jared as a person. There was no reason that he should be sitting with the speechwriter laying out our nation’s plan to fight a global pandemic. And I knew that if things went badly with the speech, which felt inevitable, he would be the first person to say in the president’s ear that the comms team had [f*cked] it all up. He was Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit.”
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