‘He struck a lot of us as clueless’: 11 ex-White House chiefs of staff struggled to counsel Reince Priebus
The author of The New York Times best-selling book, The Gatekeepers: How the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency has an explosive new Vanity Fair expose documenting the time Reince Priebus served in the Donald Trump administration.
A month before the inauguration, Barack Obama’s outgoing Chief of Staff Denis McDonough hosted Priebus and 10 additional former chief of staffs to give advice.
“I caught the eye of several of the others and we exchanged worried expressions,” a Republican chief revealed. “He seemed much too relaxed about being able to navigate a difficult job. I think he struck a lot of us as clueless.”
“He was approaching the job like it was some combination of personal aide and cruise director,” another noted.
“We wanted to help Reince in any way we could,” said Jack Watson, who served President Jimmy Carter. “But I don’t think there was a chief in the room that thought he was going to be able to do the job, given Trump as his president.”
The article explains that on election night, it looked like the chief of staff role almost went to Steve Bannon, except for the fact Bannon didn’t look the part.
“Trump looked around and I remember I had a combat jacket on and I hadn’t shaved in a week,” said Bannon. “I had the greasy hair [hanging] down. . . . I’m the senior guy—but look, it was obvious Reince had to be chief of staff.”
Bannon also had thoughts on the firing of former FBI director Jim Comey and the resulting investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, was apparently disappointed that the White House communications shop was failing to defend Comey’s firing.
“There’s not a f*cking thing you can do to sell this!,” Bannon charged.
“Nobody can sell this! P. T. Barnum couldn’t sell this! People aren’t stupid!” Bannon continued.
“This is a terrible, stupid decision that’s going to have massive implications. It may have shortened Trump’s presidency—and it’s because of you, Jared Kushner!” Bannon shouted.
“Mueller’s doing a roll-up just like he did with the Gambinos. [Former campaign manager Paul] Manafort’s the caporegime, right? And [Rick] Gates [Manafort’s deputy] is a made man! [George] Papadopoulos is equivalent to a wiseguy out in a social club in Brooklyn,” Bannon explained. “This is like a Wagner opera. In the overture you get all the strands of the music you’re going to hear for three hours. Well, Mueller opened with a bang. He totally caught these guys by surprise. So if you’re not going to fight, you’re going to get rolled over.”
Priebus admitted his time was troubled.
“Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” he told Vanity Fair.