Sean Spicer contradicts Trump's Manafort claims in new book

Exclusive: Trump’s former press secretary describes Manafort as impactful and describes the president as ‘a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow’

Dreamily envisioning Donald Trump as “a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow”, former press secretary Sean Spicer has filled a new book with breathless memories of his role in recent American history – while admitting that Paul Manafort, suspected of being a tool of Moscow, played a central role in the Trump campaign.

In The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President, which will be released on 24 July and a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian, Spicer dramatically compares the work of a press secretary to that of fighter jet pilot, champion boxer and tightrope artist.

At impressive length, the book purports to set the record straight on an extensive string of micro-episodes and mini-scandals from the Trump campaign and early presidency.

But Spicer’s description in the book of Manafort’s campaign role belies Trump’s characterization of former campaign chairman Manafort as a minor campaign figure. Last year, Trump said Manafort had only been with the campaign for a “very short period of time”. The book also contradicts Spicer’s own March 2017 statement at the White House that Manafort had “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time”.

The cover of Sean Spicer’s book.
The cover of Sean Spicer’s book. Photograph: AP

But in the book Spicer portrays Manafort as having an important and impactful role.

“Paul brought a much-needed maturity to the Trump campaign when it needed an experienced political professional operative more than anything else,” Spicer writes of Manafort’s hiring in the spring of 2016. “There was no semblance of a campaign structure, just a few, distraught, overworked people constantly barking into their phones. Paul immediately set up and staffed the political and communications operations necessary to take on the Clinton machine.

“The Manafort message was clear: Trump will be our nominee and our next president, and anyone who didn’t want to work to that end could spend the next four years in political Siberia. (No Russia pun intended.)”

Manafort resigned as Trump campaign chairman in August 2016, after the national spotlight focused on undeclared payments that he had received for work in the former Soviet bloc. He was jailed last month as he awaits trial on charges of money laundering, tax fraud, failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice. Manafort has denied all wrongdoing.

Elsewhere in the book, the reader finds out what really was happening behind the scenes when Spicer, now an unpaid Fox News guest with a podcast and an Instagram, attacked the press for pointing out the small size of Trump’s inauguration day crowd; when Spicer first saw Melissa McCarthy’s impression of him on Saturday Night Live; when Spicer denied that Adolf Hitler used chemical weapons; when Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as Spicer’s boss; when Spicer was excluded from a papal audience; when Spicer allegedly hid in the White House bushes on the night of James Comey’s firing (didn’t happen, Spicer says); and when Trump’s Access Hollywood “Grab ’em by the pussy” tape emerged.

“I was surprised by how many women who contacted me did not consider Trump’s comments a big deal,” Spicer writes of the latter episode. “One prominent Republican woman told me, ‘You all talk like this; we know it.’ (Actually, we men don’t all talk like this, but I held my tongue.)”

Spicer, whose six-month stint as White House press secretary lasted only one month longer than Manafort’s job with the Trump campaign, loads his memoir with painstakingly thorough descriptions of his own intensively incremental career calculations.

“I had talked to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon about me stepping away from the podium and taking a more strategic role,” Spicer writes at one stage, “which I thought better suited my talents.”

But Spicer’s admiration for Trump shines through all of his reflections on the frustrations of the job. While Spicer in one passage applies the words “erratic” and “mercurial” to the president, the book – which begins with a scene of Trump determinedly refusing Spicer’s resignation – is filled with emotionally charged passages starring the president. (The book also includes an eloquent passage in which Spicer writes about the tragic loss of his father to cancer during the presidential transition.)

After what he judged to be a particularly strong early outing as press secretary, Spicer rushes back to where Trump has been watching on television.

“To my eternal surprise, he rose up and gave me a bear hug,” Spicer writes. “‘That’s my Sean. Good job,’ he said. ‘Right way to do it’.”

A friend of mine and a man who has truly seen politics and life as few others ever will, Sean Spicer, has written a great new book, “The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President.” It is a story told with both heart and knowledge. Really good, go get it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2018

Spicer proudly recounts the story of lending the president a green tie for a meeting with the Irish taoiseach – and not getting the tie back. He lards on the praise for the president’s political skills.

“I don’t think we will ever again see a candidate like Donald Trump,” Spicer writes. “His high-wire act is one that few could ever follow. He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow. His verbal bluntness involves risks that few candidates would dare take. His ability to pivot from a seemingly career-ending moment to a furious assault on his opponents is a talent few politicians can muster.”

But an early episode in Spicer’s time as press secretary almost ruined his relationship with Trump. On the day after the inauguration, Trump, who had been watching TV coverage of his small inauguration crowd size, called up Spicer, who writes:

‘Sean, have you seen the news?’ The president was clear: this needed to be addressed – now ... I assumed that was the approach the president would want to see again: strong, aggressive, no questions. I was wrong.”

In a hastily convened press briefing, Spicer attacked the media as biased and dismissed photographs that showed Barack Obama’s inauguration crowd as having been much bigger than Trump’s.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe,” Spicer insisted at the time – and in his book, he refuses to back down from the assertion, claiming there was some enormous international online streaming audience.

But his audience of one thought Spicer had botched it, he writes:

I went back to my office, expecting an ‘attaboy’ from the president; instead Reince was waiting for me and said the president wasn’t happy at all with how I had performed. He didn’t like my not taking questions. He thought I was hung up on the wrong issues. He wanted to know why I hadn’t run my statement by him. Minutes later, the president himself called, and he was not pleased. And I started to wonder if my first day would be my last ...

I had made a bad first impression, and looking back, that was the beginning of the end.

The moment spawned what may be the most indelible popular image of Spicer, the impression of him on Saturday Night Live as a pugnacious, mendacious pulverizer of chewing gum.

“Taking a deep breath, I went to the DVR and saw Melissa McCarthy wearing my suit, downing gum by the bucket (guilty as charged, but never at the lectern), and yelling at the media,” Spicer writes of watching the skit. “I had no choice but to laugh.”

Spicer handed in his resignation after the flamboyant former Wall Streeter Scaramucci, whose personality Spicer describes as “pungent”, was hired as communications director.

Lest any reader come away with the impression of Spicer as a prisoner to his affection for the president, or as clinging too eagerly to scraps of a frankly fairly brief past, he closes his book with a declaration of independence.

“I spent my career in service to powerful people, always in a supporting role to someone else who played the part of the principal – a member of Congress, an RNC chairman, a president of the United States,” writes Spicer.

“Now I was my own principal. Now, at last, I was free to be my own man.”

  • Correction: This story has been updated, to specify that Sean Spicer is not paid for his appearances on Fox News.


Tom McCarthy

The GuardianTramp

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