Cliff Sims is the latest ex-staffer in the Trump White House to speak out about his time there, in the new book Team of Vipers

By Sam Gillette
January 29, 2019 10:16 AM
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Cliff Sims is the latest ex-staffer in the Trump White House to speak out about his time there.

Armed with what he says are “hundreds of pages of notes” that he took during his tenure, he has written Team of Vipers, out now and already quickly rebuked by President Donald Trump himself on Twitter.

Sims — who was on the communications team as a special assistant to Trump until 2018 after working on Trump’s campaign — is critical of the administration even as he stands by many of its accomplishments. That dynamic extends to some his colleagues.

He describes a chaotic environment, with no obvious leadership except for those in Trump’s inner circle. Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were among the privileged few, Sims writes.

And while the first daughter has gathered many detractors in the years since she waded from business into politics as her father’s senior adviser, first on his campaign and then in the White House, Sims isn’t one of them.

“The first time I met [Ivanka] in Trump Tower I was genuinely stunned by what appeared to be a living, breathing Barbie doll,” he writes.

“I distinctly remember thinking her face didn’t appear to have a single blemish — there was nothing being covered up by makeup,” he continues. “While her critics claim she has a plastic vibe, I didn’t see her that way, though like anyone else, she could be scripted and find some topics and people more interesting than others.”

Sims writes that he was “also struck by the fact that she was unfailingly polite.”

Ivanka “laughed freely and had a breezy air of confidence about her,” he writes. “She could be assertive at times, but never rude. And if anyone could have gotten away with being rude, it would have been her.”

In a Tuesday morning tweet, the president derided Sims as “a low level staffer that I hardly knew” who “wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction.”

According to the New York Times, Sims left the administration last year “after clashing with” with John Kelly, then the chief of staff. White House spokespeople did not respond to a request from PEOPLE for specific comment on Sims’ account.

According to Team of Vipers, Ivanka led a group of aides determined to convince her father not to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. They failed — a high-profile example of what Ivanka critics called a persistent inability to influence the president’s positions. They have accused her, essentially, of hypocrisy — nominally distancing herself from some of her father’s most unpopular policies but continuing to work in his White House.

“He knows exactly where I stand on any issue,” she told ABC News in November. “I’ll always tell you what I’m for, but it is not my place as somebody working within a White House to tell you what I’m against. The only person who knows that is one person, and he knows it.”

Still, Ivanka continues to hold sway over her father, according to Sims. She has claimed victories as well, including backing a bipartisan bill this month supporting female-fronted businesses around the world.

From left: President Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka Trump on the campaign trail
Rick Friedman/rickfriedman.com/Corbis/Getty
From left: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Alex Wong/Getty

“Ivanka was and is a valuable asset to the President for one simple reason: he trusts her,” Sims writes. “He wasn’t acquiescing to her every wish, especially on policy issues. Quite the opposite, in fact. But at the very least she eased his moods and made him happy. And for a mercurial leader like Trump, that’s not nothing. No one wants the alternative.”

Sims adds, “In my experience Ivanka also happened to be one of the most persuasive surrogates the President had, both in terms of selling his agenda to the public and in twisting the arms of wavering members of Congress. On tax reform, both of those talents proved valuable.”

Ivanka’s White House role has long drawn scrutiny. According to some accounts, other aides have complained about the unusually secure position she and her husband hold in a turbulent West Wing.

“He is my father, and he’s my boss,” Ivanka told ABC News. “And one of the reasons that I have such a good relationship with him in both a personal and professional capacity is because I’m incredibly candid with him.”

According to journalist Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House, then-senior White House adviser Steve Bannon purportedly exploded at her during an intense screaming match.

“You’re a goddamn staffer!” Bannon yelled at Ivanka, Woodward reported. According to his book, the outburst came as Bannon was informing Ivanka that in order to talk to the president she had to go through then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus like any other staffer.

“You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not,” Bannon reportedly said. “You’re on staff!”

“I’m not a staffer! I’ll never be a staffer,” Ivanka fired back, according to Fear. “I’m the first daughter.”

President Donald Trump (left) and former White House aide Cliff Sims
Cliff Sims/Twitter

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Woodward reported that is not her only ambition: Ivanka also aspires to become the first woman president.

While Sims doesn’t address this claim in Team of Vipers, he does reflect on the collective cost of being in the Trump White House. His conclusion is surprisingly damning, considering that he still supports the administration.

“The inner circle of Trump World was not always a pretty picture,” he writes. “Too often it was a portrait of venality, stubbornness, and selfishness. We leaked. We schemed. We backstabbed. Some of us told ourselves it was all done in the service of a higher calling — to protect the President, to deliver for the people.”

“But,” Sims continues, “usually it was for ourselves. Most of us came to Washington convinced of the justice of our cause and the righteousness of our principles, certain that our moral compasses were true. But proximity to power changes that. Donald Trump changes that.

“The once clear lines — between right and wrong, good and evil, light and darkness — were eroded until only a faint wrinkle remained.”