All the president's turncoats

Trump is terrified of people who have worked for him

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images, Stephanie Keith/Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Ben Gabbe/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images,)

No one scares President Trump as much as people who used to work for him. They know the truth about him, and some of them tell it. When they do, Trump denies it and smears them.

It's amazing how many people have turned on Trump in just his first term. He is a man who prizes loyalty above all else, and yet one toady after another has betrayed him.

John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, is the latest. According to The New York Times, Bolton's unpublished manuscript claims that Trump sought "to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens." In response, Trump said that Bolton is trying "to sell a book," and Trump's defenders began smearing Bolton.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Jenna Ellis, one of the president's attorneys, tweeted that "it is so sad that so many are willing to sell out America, our Constitution, truth, their integrity, and our great president just to score a book deal or five minutes of fame." An editor at The Federalist said Bolton is just "mad Trump fired him for leaking and trying to start new wars." Anonymous White House officials sniped to the Times that Bolton was a "disgruntled former employee."

The same charge was leveled against Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's communications director for 10 days, after he soured on Trump last August — despite once writing a book in praise of him. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted: "Anthony Scaramucci has ZERO credibility. He's a disgruntled employee attacking @realDonaldTrump for his own personal gain." Trump called Scaramucci "a highly unstable 'nut job'" and "just another disgruntled former employee who got fired for gross incompetence!" Trump said he "barely knew him" before hiring him.

That's another favorite dodge. Trump, who claimed to have "the world's greatest memory," quickly forgets people when they tell the truth about him.

After Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate who helped open doors in Eastern Europe, implicated the president in the Ukraine scandal, Trump said, "I don't know him at all." There are multiple pictures of them together. ABC News also released audio of a conversation in which Trump told Parnas and other associates to fire U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, making his claim of ignorance even more implausible.

Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration, suffered a similar fate. In October, Trump said, "I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify." After Sondland spilled the beans about the Ukraine scandal in his testimony, Trump said of him, "I hardly know the gentleman," "I don't know him very well," and "This is not a man I know well."

When Trump doesn't forget you, he insults you, fires you, and insults you again.

After hearing that Yovanovitch had criticized him, Trump told some associates, including Parnas, to "take her out." When Yovanovitch testified in November, Trump cyber-attacked her on Twitter. "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," Trump tweeted as she was testifying.

Similarly, when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, testified about Trump's infamous phone call, he was excoriated. A former Trump aide called Vindman "a never-Trump bureaucrat Deep State crybaby" for saying "contemptuous things against the commander-in-chief." Donald Trump Jr. tweeted an article titled "Let's Stop Pretending Every Impeachment Witness Is A Selfless Hero." Bernard Kerik, the disgraced former commissioner of the NYPD, said: "What a dick!" The White House emailed talking points to its surrogates saying that Vindman had "Major Credibility Issues" and tweeted that one of Vindman's former bosses had "concerns" about his judgment.

According to the White House, people who work at the White House can't be trusted. Which is often true.

After Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in May 2017, H.R. McMaster, one of the few honorable people to work for the president, denied it to reporters. In that moment, McMaster became McServant.

If you work for Trump, lying isn't part of the job — it is the job. Telling the truth, on the other hand, gets you in trouble.

After Rex Tillerson called Trump "a f---ing moron," Trump challenged him to an IQ contest and fired him on Twitter. But firing him didn't stop him. In December 2018, nine months after he was fired, Tillerson said the president was "pretty undisciplined." In response, Trump tweeted that his former secretary of state "was dumb as a rock and I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell."

Trump hates the truth because he can't control it. "Truth has a despotic character," Hannah Arendt observed in 1967. "It is therefore hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize ... Unwelcome facts possess an infuriating stubbornness that nothing can move except plain lies."

After the release of Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury, in which Steve Bannon is quoted as saying that Donald Trump Jr.'s infamous Trump Tower meeting was "treasonous," Trump tweeted that Bannon "cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone."

It's worth remembering, when Trump smears his former employees, that he hired them. He hired them not on merit but because they flattered him. "I often think of people by the way they treat me," Trump told Howard Stern in 2013.

That's why Trump used to like Omarosa Manigault Newman, former contestant on The Apprentice and former aide-de-camp at the White House. Trump employed her, he said, because "she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!" After she left the White House, she said Trump was "mentally impaired" and accused him of saying the N-word. Trump retaliated by tweeting that she "got fired 3 times on the Apprentice, now got fired for the last time. ... She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. ... She was vicious, but not smart. I would rarely see her."

Asked why she was hired, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, "She was very loyal to the president." The president's then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen said she had "admired and respected President Trump for over a decade."

This is the same Michael Cohen who defended Trump for 12 years as his attorney, only to turn on him in an effort to reduce his prison sentence. In February 2019, he testified before Congress and called Trump a "racist," a "cheat," and a "conman." Then he went to prison, like many other people who have worked for Trump.

Cohen became "a different person," Trump said. He was "a fine person with a wonderful family" in April 2018, a "Rat" in December 2018, and a "Bad lawyer and fraudster" in March 2019.

After the FBI raided Cohen's office in April 2018, Newt Gingrich sympathized with Cohen and likened the FBI to the Gestapo. But after Cohen testified against Trump, Gingrich called him a "convicted liar." A Trump campaign spokeswoman described Cohen as "a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called him "a convicted perjurer" and a "patsy" for the Democrats. Other Republicans called Cohen a "tax evader," a "bank swindler," and "an all-around liar." They liked Cohen when he lied about his crimes and hated him when he confessed to them.

Trump thinks "flipping" — i.e., telling the truth — should be illegal. "If you told the truth, you go to jail," he said. Trump doesn't like telling the truth or going to jail, but he's fine with other people going to jail for not telling the truth. He said Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were "very brave" for not flipping. He said Roger Stone had "guts!" He called Paul Manafort "a brave man!"

Trump views the truth as treason and truth-tellers as traitors. As Edward Gibbon put it in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, "Treason against such a prince might easily be considered as patriotism to the state."

Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us