Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Imagine working in a palace of intrigue and sad spectacle for a ruler as bizarre and incompetent as Donald Trump. Day by day, you watch this charlatan and his strange, enabling family and his sycophantic courtiers. You hear the lies, but you know the truth. How long would you stay silent about what you had seen and heard?
Madeleine Westerhout was the President’s personal assistant for two and a half years. She witnessed more of the White House circus than most anyone, and kept quiet about it, until she spoke in the presence of some reporters, multiple sources told CNN. None of what she revealed was made public. But when Trump found out, she was abruptly declared a “separated employee” and barred from the White House.
Nothing in the Trump presidency suggests that he has adapted to sober responsibilities of his office. He has, instead, run the White House in the manner of the Trump Organization, where people of middling qualifications were paid exorbitant salaries that made up for the high level of stress that came with trying to follow Trump’s lead.
Those who thrived at Trump Tower were able to adjust to the turbulence and keep the secrets of an operation that revolved around the flashy but silly family brand, with Donald Trump as a barking mad king; daughter Ivanka as a make-believe princess; sons Eric and Donald Jr. as pretend princes. It was all a game devoted to TV ratings and development deals and the accumulation of wealth.
The difference for administration officials is that very few would fit the profile of a Trump Organization executive. Westerhout, for example, worked for the entirely normal Mitt Romney, now a senator from Utah, and by several accounts was inconsolable on the night Trump was elected. Tapped to serve in the White House, she apparently became a loyalist or at least appeared to be one.
The power and prestige, if not the pay, can inspire devotion in those who serve a president. But jobs in the White House also involve service to the American people. The presidency is bigger than any one person, and what happens in and around the Oval Office affects the world in real ways. Any person of conscience would feel a calling to serve not just the politician who occupies the office but higher ideals.
In Trump, we have a chief executive who would alarm anyone who is the least bit concerned about the American people and our nation’s standing in the world. From the moment he observed “American carnage” in his inaugural speech to his feckless performance at the recent G7 gathering of industrial powers, Trump degraded his office and American prestige.
No ordinary program could help you keep track of the number of people who have cycled through the Trump administration since January 2017. When The New York Times last updated its running list, it exceeded 50. From Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, each departure offered a view of a presidency marked by chaos and confusion caused by the temperamental man at the top.
Most recently, White House leakers told Axios about a fully-bonkers interest the President allegedly expressed in using nuclear bombs to fight hurricanes. (Trump tweeted that he never said it.) And “current and former officials” also shared with Washington Post reporters his outrageous alleged offer to pardon officials who break the law in order to build his wall on the Mexican border. (Aides say this was a “joke.”)
According to The Atlantic, General Mattis saw in Trump a man of limited cognitive ability. Despite his devotion to country, Mattis was eventually worn down and had to leave.
Madeleine Westerhout could not have avoided absorbing regular doses of Trump family craziness, and the burden apparently exceeded her ability to contain it.
What did Westerhout witness? Well, she must have seen and heard much of the drama that has resulted in dozens of high-level resignations.
She has witnessed the behavior of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, two glossy Manhattanites who now hold high-level posts in the US government by virtue of their family connection, and who were supposed to moderate the President. There’s little evidence that they have been effective in any way. Indeed, of late, they have been missing in action.
Add whatever she saw of the multiple scandals that have erupted in this administration, and Westerhout can easily be seen as a repository of enough startling anecdotes to fill her own contribution to the shelf-load of tell-all books published by former administration figures.
She has also earned a degree of pity for the burden she has assumed during more than 900 days at the White House.
Westerhout was reportedly dismissed for over-sharing about the Trump family, people familiar with the ouster told several news outlets. But there’s no shame in telling the truth about this strange and powerful clan. On a political level, what she did serves a higher good. And on a personal level, she has gained her freedom. If she’s not glad for it now, she should be soon.