The Trump Family in the White House: How Melania Calms the President & Ivanka Does Clean Up, According to New Book
President Donald Trump is known for demanding intense loyalty from his associates and for not trusting very many of them — except his family.
The new book Let Me Finish by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who headed Trump’s transition team to the White House, details just how deeply the president’s children were embedded in and around his campaign and, later, administration. (White House spokespeople did not respond to a request from PEOPLE for comment.)
Trump has long intimately mixed the personal and professional: His real estate company, the Trump Organization, was previously named E. Trump & Son after his grandmother Elizabeth.
Long before he announced his intention to seek the presidency, his children Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka were key business advisers and even TV personalities in their own right, each of them appearing alongside their dad on NBC’s The Apprentice.
This closeness persisted on the campaign trail and into the White House, creating an uncommonly high-profile blending of the first family and the federal government unseen since the Kennedys.
Since Trump took office, Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kusher, have joined him as senior White House aides (with Trump at one point reportedly considering his son-in-law for the position of chief of staff).
“He is my father, and he’s my boss,” Ivanka told ABC News in November. “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.”
Meanwhile Eric and Don Jr. run the Trump Organization, which Trump still owns in an arrangement criticized by ethical experts.
They aren’t the only ones.
In February 2018, Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain, called out Ivanka and Kushner’s work in the White House as pure nepotism.
“You have two people, very close to [President Trump] whose purpose is not the country,” she said then. “The purpose is the man. And that’s a problem, because this is about serving your country
And, perhaps most grave, in July 2017 Trump’s son Don Jr. was implicated in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election when an incriminating email chain was discovered. It exposed his glee (“I love it”) over the prospect of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer in 2016.
Trump has not been swayed. Don Jr. is a vocal defender of his father’s and Kushner remains one of the biggest players in the his administration, according to Let Me Finish. He and Christie had a conflict from the start, according to the former governor, as Christie was responsible for putting Kushner’s father behind bars while he worked as a prosecutor.
“The kid [Jared] has been taking an axe to your head with the boss ever since I got here,” Steve Bannon, then the White House’s chief strategist, told Christie, according to his book. “What I’ve learned every day since August is if you want to survive around here, you’ve got to agree with the kid ninety-five percent of the time. You have to.”
In Let Me Finish, Christie also recalls Paul Manafort, then-campaign chairman, telling him in mid 2016 that Trump’s family “didn’t trust” him to oversee the transition.
As a result, Christie was forced to meet with an executive committee regarding every proposed hire — with Kushner acting as the “unnamed chairman.” According to the book, the family also didn’t want him to become vice president. Hence, the ascension of Mike Pence.
Here are other insights from Let Me Finish on how the Trump family has operated on the campaign trail and inside the White House.
First Lady ‘Seemed to Have a Calming Influence’
Christie is not shy about being a big fan of Melania Trump, describing her as “smart, worldly, very intuitive, and immensely likeable.”
She also brought out some tranquility in her infamously volatile husband, Christie writes: “A two-hour dinner with Donald could be overwhelming. Mary Pat [Christie’s wife] put it best: ‘He’s exhausting.’ But if he was talking too much, Melania would sometimes reach over and lay her hand on his forearm. That was the signal: Let others get in a word. She seemed to have a calming influence on him.”
Christie’s is a rosy view of the Trump marriage. Since coming to Washington, D.C., the couple has weathered allegations of extra-marital affairs, endless online scrutiny of Melania’s habit of physically avoiding her husband and more than a dozen allegations he has sexually assaulted or abused women, all of which he denies.
Trump ‘Really Tried to Be There’ for His Kids After Divorce
While critics denounce Trump’s reliance on family members in the White House, there’s no denying his love for them, according to Christie.
In his book he recalls a conversation with Trump right before the 2016 election. Rather than focusing on debate prep, Trump wanted to talk about fatherhood.
“I got divorced and it made things harder,” Trump told Christie, per the book. “But I really tried to be there for my kids. I tried to be present in all their lives.” Christie writes that Trump explained he often wondered if he was doing “the right things with them in the business,” and was constantly evaluating their strong points and weaknesses so they can be in positions to be successful. (Since taking office, sons Don Jr. and Eric run the Trump Organization.)
According to Christie’s book, Trump admitted his process of monitoring and measuring his children would get more complicated if he became president.
“This is getting real now,” Trump told Christie, he writes. “I might be president. What am I going to do? I’ve been the one who determined what my kids were doing and how they were doing it. I’ve tried to set an example for them. And I’m not going to have the time to do that anymore. What’s going to happen if I’m not there?”
Trump Concedes to Democrats After Month-Long Shutdown and Will Reopen the Government — Temporarily
How Ivanka Has Helped Play Clean Up
During the 2016 campaign, Trump called out Judge Gonzalo Curiel in a racially-charged attack. The then-presidential candidate tied Curiel’s Mexican heritage to reasons he would be biased in a lawsuit against Trump University.
“I have a judge in the Trump University civil case, Gonzalo Curiel (San Diego), who is very unfair,” Trump tweeted on May 30, 2016. “An Obama pick. Totally biased-hates Trump.”
The uproar was immediate. And Ivanka was on damage control.
According to his book, Christie asked Ivanka to help him draft a statement for her father to release that was, in part, an apology to anyone who was offended.
“This issue is hurting you,” Ivanka told her dad, according to the book. After some changes with his Sharpie, the president agreed to send out the statement.
What Christie Told Tiffany Trump Before Her Big Speech
Christie was there to coach Tiffany Trump when she got the jitters before her speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention — her highest profile public appearance up to that point. According to his book, Tiffany’s mom, Marla Maples, asked Christie to talk to Tiffany because she was “really nervous.”
“You could go in there and, as long as you don’t throw up on your shoes, your father is going to love whatever you say,” Christie remembers telling the younger Trump daughter.
“What I want you to think about when you’re up there is you’re not talking to all the people in the hall or all the people on television,” he continued. “You’re talking to him.”
Christies writes that Tiffany thanked him, and her mom told him, “That’s amazing. She’ll be great.”
While Tiffany, a student at Georgetown University Law Center, has appeared at her father’s side since he transformed from reality fixture and businessman to president, their relationship has not historically been close. A source told PEOPLE last April that “after the inauguration, Tiffany and her dad have sometimes gone for months without speaking.”