"What happens if he presses that red button? I'm sure many a first-time visitor wondered," former Trump staffer Cliff Sims writes in a new book
According to a former White House staffer, this same image of nuclear deployment is what the president wanted associates to think of when he pressed a red button on his desk in the Oval Office.
Cliff Sims — who served on the communications team as a special assistant to Trump until 2018 after working on Trump’s presidential campaign — says he remembers meetings in the Oval Office where attendees couldn’t help but stare at the small wooden box, featuring the presidential seal and a red button on the president’s Resolute desk.
“What happens if he presses that red button? I’m sure many a first-time visitor wondered to themselves,” Sims writes in Team of Vipers, released this week, which gives a critical look at the 2016 campaign and the chaos of the Trump White House.
“If Trump noticed someone glancing at the box — and sometimes completely unprompted — he would pick it up and move it farther away from himself,” Sims writes.
According to Sims, Trump would say, “Don’t worry about that. No one wants me to push that button, so we’ll just keep it over here. Now, what were you saying?”
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Others would “laugh nervously” and, later in the meeting, the president would bring the button closer to him without any explanation, Sims writes.
“Out of nowhere, he’d suddenly press the button,” he recalls of Trump. “Not sure what to do, guests would look at one another with raised eyebrows. Moments later, a steward would enter the room carrying a glass filled with Diet Coke on a silver platter, and Trump would burst out laughing.”
According to Team of Vipers, Trump enjoyed the ruse.
“‘That red button,'” he said, per the book. “‘People never know what to think about the red button! Is he launching the nukes?!'”
Just like he did when angered by the North Korean leader, Trump used his Twitter account to dismiss Sims.
“A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” Trump wrote on Tuesday. “He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!”
In Team of Vipers, Sims writes that most visitors would laugh at the president’s joke with his red button. But it was also a revealing moment.
“The prank offered a subtle sense of self-awareness,” he writes, “there were people who thought Trump was volatile enough to start a nuclear war.”
For example, his tweet about nuclear war in January 2018, was met with notable outcry on social media, including from TV host Stephen Colbert and retired astronaut Mike Kelly.
“Please … don’t start a nuclear war,” Colbert wrote.
According to Sims, he wrote Team of Vipers based on “hundreds of pages of notes” taken in real time and from in-person interactions with the president and other staffers.
And one of the most “memorable” red-button moments occurred when Dr. Ben Carson, Trumps secretary of housing and urban development, visited the Oval Office.
As Carson outlined his vision for a department that would be focused on literacy, Trump drank his Diet Coke, according to Sims. But the president started “to lose interest” during the meeting that lasted approximately 10 minutes.
“At some point [Trump] noted his Diet Coke was nearly gone and went back to his button routine, but his heart wasn’t quite in it this time. ‘People always wonder about this button,’ [Trump] told a confused Carson,” Sims writes.
After Trump successfully summoned a fresh drink, he told Carson, “That sounds wonderful, Ben,” according to Sims. “‘I trust you to do it right.’ “
“I had no idea what Trump had just approved, and I’m not sure he did, either,” Sims writes. “But he stood up, signaling the meeting was coming to an end.”