Melania's 'Hint of Tears,' Husband Donald's Possible 2024 Act of 'Vengeance' and Other 'Peril' Highlights

The new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa has been dismissed by the former president as "fake," but the authors say it draws on some 200 insider interviews

After Fear and Rage comes Peril, the third of Bob Wooward's dispatches from inside Donald Trump's administration and, like those two previous books, featuring an array of headline-making anecdotes and claims.

Among them:

A national security emergency sparked by the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol.

First Lady Melania Trump's "hint of tears" as she departed the White House.

An expletive-filled outburst: "You're not the president! I'm the g------ president!"

Co-written with fellow Washington Post reporter Robert Costa and based on interviews with more than 200 sources, Peril is filled with alternately ominous and colorful scenes.

Like many other previous accounts, including by former Trump staffers, it has been dismissed by the former president as "fake." Trump himself has both criticized and been interviewed by Woodward.

"Real power is—I don't even want to use the word—fear," he told the authors five years ago, according to the book's epilogue.

"I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have," he continued then. "I don't know if that's an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do."

Continue reading for more highlights from Peril.

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Attempts to rein in then-President Trump

According to Peril, by the fall of 2017, House Speaker Paul Ryan's support of Trump had begun to waver. Ryan started "to research how to deal with someone who is amoral and transactional," until a conversation with a New York doctor and Republican donor led him to believe that Trump had narcissistic personality disorder. (Trump defended himself as "a very stable genius" in 2018.)

"Ryan's main takeaway: Do not humiliate Trump in public," Woodward and Costa write. "Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized." But Ryan still managed to set Trump off, especially when he didn't publicly stand by the president when Trump criticized "both sides" after a a counter-protestor was killed at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. "You're not in the foxhole with me!" Trump screamed at Ryan on the phone, per the book. By April 2018, Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate and leading Republican, had decided not to run for re-election.

When Ryan told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had worked with him to "manage Trump," Ryan "thought McConnell might cry," according to Peril.

In the book's description, McConnell worried there would be no one to keep the president in check with Ryan gone. For four years, the senator worked with people like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Attorney General Bill Barr and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "to push Trump toward normal." But the efforts of the "brotherhood," as McConnell called their group, were "routinely a losing exercise. Futile," the Peril authors write.

(A spokesperson for McConnell did not return PEOPLE's request for comment; a Ryan rep could not be reached.)

Peril by Bob Woodward
amazon

Hesitation — and a "kick in the a--"

Per Peril, Joe Biden took his time deciding if he should run in the 2020 presidential election.

In early 2019, he met with Anita Dunn, a director of a political and communications firm and a former Obama White House staffer, about his chances. According to the book, Dunn was unsettled by his "lack of direction" and "concluded that if an alternative, standout candidate emerged who Biden thought could beat Trump, he might not run."

But run Biden did — with the promise to "battle for the soul of the nation."

"I just feel like I have to do this," Biden reportedly said in March 2019 to Ron Klain, who had served as chief of staff during part of Biden's vice presidency and returned to that position in the White House. "Trump represents something fundamentally different and wrong about politics."

Biden continued, per the book: "This guy just isn't really an American president."

In April 2020, Biden faced a major controversy during his campaign when Lucy Flores, a former Nevada lieutenant governor nominee, and other women came forward alleging that he had touched them or behaved physically in ways that made them uncomfortable.

A spokesperson from Biden's office told the Washington Post and other outlets that neither Biden nor his staff had "an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes."

"But Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so," his spokesperson said. "He respects Ms. Flores as a strong and independent voice in our politics and wishes her only the best."

(Separately, a former aide while Biden was in the Senate claimed he had sexually assaulted her decades ago — which he and those around him ardently denied.)

US President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th US President, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC
President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden. Shutterstock

After the seven women came forward with their allegations, "Jill was firm with Joe: You need to change, fast," Woodward and Costa write in Peril of Dr. Jill Biden.

There were political hurdles as well: Biden fared poorly in the initial Democratic nominating contests. But his campaign kicked into high gear after South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn, the House majority whip, gave his endorsement. But first, according to Peril, Clyburn needed some promises from Biden.

"If Clyburn were going to play savior, he wanted a political guarantee in exchange: Biden would make Black voters his priority, in the campaign and in the White House," the authors write. "Clyburn also thought Biden was rusty and needed a kick in the a--."

Biden promised to shorten his speeches, adopt Clyburn's antipoverty plan for federal spending and to help get a Black woman on the Supreme Court should there be a vacancy.

The Capitol riot

Peril opens with national security fears — Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, having to re-assure the Chinese against a possible U.S. threat in the final days of Trump's administration — which had been underlined by the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, by a mob of Trump's supporters.

As have many reports and books before it, Peril delves into Trump's endless lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him. (These claims have been roundly debunked and rejected by courts across the country as well as local Republican election officials.)

While Trump privately admitted defeat after Biden won the presidency last November, that changed after Rudy Giuliani came on board, according to Peril. Giuliani (whom PEOPLE could not reach) was determined to contest the election — despite lack of evidence.

"You have any idea how easy it would be for me just to leave on January 20th and get in Marine One and fly away?" Trump said in a December 2020 meeting with Sidney Powell, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne, per the book. "I've got my golf courses. I've got my friends. I've had a really good life."

Trump "seemed tired," Woodward and Costa write. But he also wasn't giving up.

"He said the presidency was stolen so he would fight," they continue. Fighting equated to bullying his Vice President Mike Pence. Trump urged Pence to "throw Biden's electors out." According to Peril, he told Pence, "I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this." (A spokesperson for Pence did not respond to a request for comment.)

Mike Pence biden inauguration
From left: Mike and Karen Pence. Rob Carr/Getty

Trump also inflamed his supporters at a rallyon Jan. 6, after which many of those supporters then marched on the Capitol. Peril details the deadly insurrection that ensued and how members of Congress responded while trapped inside, some in hiding.

In Gen. Milley's mind, Trump wanted the riot, according to the book.

"I think he wanted this. I think that he likes this," Milley told Rep. Elissa Slotkin. "I think that he wants chaos. He wants his supporters to be fighting to the bitter end."

In recent testimony before Congress, Milley confirmed he had spoken to Woodward for the book but said he hadn't read the final manuscript to comment on its accuracy.

Farewell tears and "vengeance"

Peril describes how, on Jan. 8, not long after Pence helped certify Biden's presidency, the departing vice president and his wife, Second Lady Karen Pence, walked into the staff farewell party.

"When she and Pence entered the vice president's office that Friday afternoon for the party, about 70 staffers erupted in applause. She began to cry," write Woodward and Costa. "Mike Pence's eyes welled up and his face grew red, with a smile clenched as the staffers kept applauding for minutes. This was a world where feelings about Trump were always left unspoken, where angst was packed away. The applause said everything they wanted to say to Pence, and he seemed to know it."

"It has been an emotional week," Vice President Pence told the crowd, per the book.

On Jan. 20, the departing first lady also got emotional while leaving the White House. The Trumps said goodbye to the White House staff in the Diplomatic Reception Room. "Melania wore sunglasses," the authors write. "Those who spoke with her and leaned in to bid farewell could see a hint of tears." (Others who know the first lady have been more skeptical that she missed the White House. One political source told PEOPLE recently, "She was relieved when her husband's term ended.")

The Trump children watched as Marine One took off with the couple inside.

The former president has yet to confirm whether he plans on running again, even as he has repeatedly teased a potential 2024 run. Shortly after he held his first post-presidential rally in June, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he had privately made up his mind.

Bob Woodward robert costa
The authors. MediaPunch/Shutterstock

The answer is most likely yes, according to Peril. During a July phone call with Brad Parscale, Trump's former campaign manager, Trump said, "I'm really strongly thinking about running."

Trump then wondered if his successor suffered from dementia — which Biden has repeatedly laughed off — and referred to Biden as "decrepit," according to Peril.

"He had an army. An army for Trump. He wants that back," Parscale later told others, per the book. "He feels a little pressure of not being in the fight like he was and he's wrapping his head around how to get back there.

"I don't think he sees it as a comeback. He sees it as vengeance."

Peril is on sale now.

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