The normally cozy front salon at the private George Town Club on Wisconsin Avenue was filled with linen-covered tables, TV cameras and lights around noon on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Members and guests munched chicken salad and dark chocolate cupcakes while, at times, gasping and shaking their heads.
For her monthly “Q&A Cafe,” TV journalist and longtime Georgetowner Carol Joynt was interviewing two prize-winning Washington Post reporters about the inner workings of the Trump White House.
In their new best-seller, “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” co-authors Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker reveal numerous episodes of real conflict — some call it turmoil — within the Trump administration in chapters titled “Unhinged,” “Shocking the Conscience” and “Paranoia and Pandemonium.” At the George Town Club event, they added to the stories told in the book.
“The president shocked many by his profound lack of knowledge, particularly about foreign affairs,” the reporters told Joynt. “Eventually, he almost completely dismissed the national security briefings.”
The three journalists spent some time talking about the president’s relationship to reporters and to members of his administration. Many of the Cabinet secretaries have been openly verbally abused by the president, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in particular. But they also experienced personal attacks in restaurants and at their homes by protestors, the reporters said.
And while Rucker, a White House reporter for the Post, used to work every day in the press room of the West Wing, now he only goes there once a week or so. For over a year, there have been no formal press conferences. “The President prefers to talk to the press personally himself,” Rucker said. “It’s up to the White House staff whether they talk to us or not.”
The one person who seems to be able to calm the rage is 31-year-old Hope Hicks, who is returning to the White House after a year’s hiatus.
In her interviews, Joynt likes to go beyond the books and breaking news to get to the personal, especially the process of writing. “How did you two do it? Work together?” she asked. “Well,” began Leonnig, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. Both of them worked their sources, she said, but “he’s a better writer than I am.”
The title of the book refers to a phrase Trump has repeatedly used to describe himself, starting in January of 2018, when a book, “Fire and Fury,” raised questions about his mental stability. But you don’t hear so much open talk anymore about the president being “crazy” and trying to remove him from office as unfit, Rucker told The Georgetowner. “Everyone has gotten more used to him.”