We’ve read this story before: A book comes out that contains unflattering chapters about President Trump. Strategists say he should ignore it. But he finds it irresistible. He slams the author – and drives even more attention toward the book.
This time the author is Cliff Sims and the book is “Team of Vipers,” a candid account of life inside the chaotic and competitive Trump White House.
And Trump’s Twitter insult came while Sims was live on CNN talking about the book.
“A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” Trump said in his tweet. “He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer.”
At the time of the Tuesday morning tweet, “Team of Vipers” was No. 12 on Amazon’s best selling books list. The rankings are updated every hour. “Vipers” has been moving up the list ever since, and as of Tuesday afternoon, it stands at No. 6.
Of course, it’s impossible to know how much of the sales momentum is due to Trump, and how much is due to other factors like Sims’ TV appearances. He was on both MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday morning.
But Trump’s post triggered a brand new news cycle about Sims’ depictions of a distracted president and a distrustful inner circle of aides.
Excerpts from the book line up with, and confirm, numerous anonymously sourced accounts of White House infighting.
Sims was director of White House message strategy and a special assistant to the president. On “New Day,” he told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that he was motivated to write “Vipers” because other books about Trump have either been in “burn the place down” mode or completely “sycophantic.”
“What I thought was missing was a firsthand account of the truth about what it’s like to work there, by somebody who’s willing to put their name on it,” he said.
Trump also tweeted that that the former staffer “signed a non-disclosure agreement.” The mention stood out because it confirmed previous reports about Trump aides being subject to legal contracts that bar them from speaking ill about Trump.
But there is considerable doubt about whether such contracts are enforceable in this circumstance.
Attorney Bradley P. Moss, who specializes in national security issues, tweeted in response, “The President just confirmed there is a non-disclosure agreement. Aside from SF-312 for classified information, any other non-disclosure agreement for federal employees is unconstitutional. Go ahead, Mr. President. Sue him. Do it. I dare you.” An SF-312 is a non-disclosure agreement for federal employees who have access to classified information.
His colleague Mark S. Zaid added, “We would handle any litigation effort by Trump as pro bono. We stand by our word.”
So far there has been no legal action against Sims, just a tweeted threat from a campaign official.
Sims reacted to Trump’s tweet in real-time during “New Day.”
Camerota said to him, “You’ll be shocked to know that the president just tweeted about you while we’ve been doing this interview.”
She read the tweet aloud. He smiled at the part about “Vipers” being “yet another boring book.” When she got to the part about Sims being just a “gofer,” Sims said, “Nice!”
“There it is,” Sims said. “Look, I knew that was a possibility when I wrote this book. And you know what I said? My identity is not wrapped up in being a Trump staffer. My identity is wrapped up in who I am in my faith, and those are things that matter to me. I know who Jesus says I am. Don’t matter to me what Donald Trump or anyone else says that I am.”
Camerota ended the interview by saying “thank you, Mr. President, for watching our segment and our show today.”
Before the book came out, The Daily Beast pointed out that the White House had “steadfastly declined to comment on the record” about it. The website quoted a former White House official who said “if Trump can go the next 24 hours without tweeting about it, the book will be out of the news cycle by this Wednesday.”
So much for that.
Trump’s tweet ties into something called the “Streisand Effect.”
Kara Alaimo, who teaches public relations at Hofstra University, once explained it this way in a CNN.com op-ed: “The phenomenon is named after Barbra Streisand, who sued to have photos of her mansion removed from an online database. The result was that many more people saw the photos because of her complaint.”