Cliff Sims, Former Special Assistant to President Donald Trump, joined the Brian Kilmeade Show to discuss his new book “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House“. Sims addresses criticism of his book from Dana Perino, which he considers “an honest assessment” of President Trump, if he thinks the president is doing a good job, and what the weaknesses were during the campaign. Sims also responds to President Trump’s tweet “A low-level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when, in fact, he was nothing more than a gopher,” and if he thinks he will be sued. Watch the full interview below:
BRIAN KILMEADE, BRIAN KILMEADE SHOW HOST: All right, we are back, and yesterday we went inside the White House. We were there for a full hour. We had a chance to talk to governor Chris Christie about his perspective. Now it’s time to get the perspective of Cliff Sims. He’s the author of “Team of Vipers: My 50 Extraordinary Days in the White House”. We know about a lot of White House books that have come out. There’s nothing hotter that Trump books, hit books and support books, and this one, Cliff Sims, how would you characterize this?
CLIFF SIMS, FORMER DIRECTOR OF WHITE HOUSE MESSAGE STRATEGY: Well, it was 500 days, not 50, so don’t cut off 450 days from –
KILMEADE: Oh, my bad. OK, yes. 500 days.
SIMS: Less than – that was only like five Scaramuccis. You have to give you a little bit more of that. You know working in the White House. One of the things I noticed you mentioned several of the other books that have come out is you either had your Trump hit books a lot of them full of nonsense or you had your Trump, you know Trump is the greatest thing that ever happened in the universe books and what I thought was lacking was a first-person perspective, somebody who was there, who was in the room who is going to give you an honest assessment, the good, bad and otherwise. And I think there are good, bad and otherwise.
KILMEADE: Some of your background. You’re an Alabama guy.
KILMEADE: And how are you linked to Jeff Sessions?
SIMS: Yes, Jeff Sessions is someone who I became friends with in Alabama. I covered him as a journalist there in Alabama and he is the one who kind of brought me into Trump world toward the end of the campaign. The last couple of months I took a leave of absence from my company to join the campaign in New York, and so just a long-time friend of his.
KILMEADE: And you were pretty much one of the people who has a flame thrower there, right? You were there to – what is – they sent you (ph) an arsonist in one way, David Bossie called you.
SIMS: Yes, yes, yes. I came in to do some of the messaging stuff and you know with Donald Trump everything is about communications and messaging and he’s going to punch anything – anybody that punches him he’s going to punch back 10 times harder so a lot of what my job was there was to be a part of the team that was punching back everyday on behalf of the candidate.
KILMEADE: During – during the campaign.
KILMEADE: Where did you see the weaknesses were during the campaign?
SIMS: Well, I – I – I guess all the weaknesses have kind of been vindicated as not being that big of a deal. I mean we did have a lot of concern about just – I mean it was so different than any campaign. There wasn’t the traditional apparatus out in the states the way you would normally have is a very small team. I mean there were basically four or five Hillary staffers doing the work of every one Trump staffer.
SIMS: And so I mean I guess you could consider that a weakness but Trump was just such a force of nature. That election – anybody who takes credit for that election outside of Donald Trump is overstating their importance because it was basically just a camera and his microphone and crowds all over the country, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
KILMEADE: Right. One of the things that you found you didn’t like about the president, you didn’t think he was sincerely religious. You talked about – well you told one story about how when the president was asked, what do you do to ask for forgiveness of sins. What did he say?
SIMS; He said that I’ve never asked for forgiveness, I just try to do better.
KILMEADE: Right, or I just handle it myself.
SIMS: Yes. Yes. And that’s kind of – look, that’s a core tenant of Christianity right that we ask forgiveness of our sins. It kind of – I do say that I don’t think he is a religious man in the way that I am or maybe other evangelicals are but I think Franklin Graham said it better than I ever could, he’s not a great picture of the Christian faith but he has been a great defender of the Christian faith and I think he deserves credit for that.
KILMEADE: Do you think he’s doing a good job?
SIMS: I think on a lot of things he is. I certainly think on the economy — it’s really tough to argue with these numbers right now. I led the messaging on the tax reform push. I think that has really been what we called rocket fuel for the economy, rolling back the regulations. I mean we’re seeing historically low unemployment and that cuts across all demographic groups. I really think what he’s doing in foreign policy and I heard Teason (ph) on here right before I came on and there’s a lot of pushback on what he’s doing in terms of pulling out of these foreign entanglements.
There’s a great scene in the book though where it’s actually about Afghanistan and all these (ph) kind of generals, all the people are saying we got to stay in Afghanistan essentially in perpetuity and he comes out of the Oval Office and he basically says, “Look, someone is going to have to explain to me, we go into these places, our guys get killed. Here we are 17 years later and no one can even really tell me why we’re still there.” And I think that is – a lot of people across the county that resonates with them.
SIMS: So I think he deserves credit for pulling back these foreign entanglements in a way that – it’s kind of bipartisan consensus that we stay engaged in all these things forever. He deserves credit I think for rolling that back.
KILMEADE: Right. Well actually – that’s where I disagree with you. I think that the way he’s about to pull out of Syria and cut a deal with the evil Taliban I think is going to blow up in our face.
He tweeted this about you. “A low-level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when, in fact, he was nothing more than a gopher. He signed a non-disclosure agreement, he is a mess,” and I believe that there’s a report that they want to sue you.
SIMS: I saw tweets about it. I haven’t gotten anything on that, so I don’t know. We’ll have to see what happens I guess.
KILMEADE: Well first off, how do you – do you feel as though he’s accurately describing you?
SIMS: Well no, but, I mean, this is kind of what we see. I mean, it’s not the first time that this has happened. I mean, I barely knew Steve Bannnon. I barely knew – I mean, go down the list of people. And, you know, the good news is for people that read the book, they’ll see a great excerpt in the middle of about a dozen or more pictures of us in various intimate settings and that kind of thing.
So I mean, you – one thing I learned from the president while I was there was the guy lets criticism roll off his back like water off a duck’s back. I’m going to do the same thing on this book. My goal was not to hurt the president. I’m not coming after him. In fact, I had an interview with The Washington Post where their first question was, “why’d you go so easy on the guy?”
SIMS: And – but I want to tell a true picture…
KILMEADE: (inaudible) team of vipers then (ph).
SIMS: Yes, so the team of vipers is – first of all, I was one of them at time – but it’s basically the group of people that surround the president. I think often times they’re not in there serving his best interests.
KILMEADE: Sean Spicer’s one.
SIMS: I think he was.
KILMEADE: You thought he was terrible.
SIMS: I did, and there’s a scene in the book where the president’s frustrated because he’s seeing all these anonymous quotes about him by his own staff in the media. And he’s like, “who are these people that supposedly work for me?” And he asked me that question and I told him there was a point during the campaign when things got really, really hard. And a lot of us the next morning after Access Hollywood, we got up and got to the office at 6 a.m. because we were going to show we’re not going to quit, and there was people that quit on you. And when we came to the White House, some of those same people that quit on your were brought here.
KILMEADE: Reince Priebus you think was terrible. You thought he was weak.
SIMS: Yes. Yes, I thought that was a disaster. I thought it really was.
SIMS: Look, a lot of us had never been in a White House before. I’d never served in a White House, so there was some inexperience there in terms of the processes that need to be in place to implement the president’s directives, but just kind of contrasting with General Kelly, you know, Kelly came in and there was a sense of order.
Donald Trump, one thing that I think he gets unduely criticized for is the way he operates. Oh, it’s chaos all the time and he’s – if you go back to the way he ran Trump organization (ph), it’s really the same. He doesn’t like a lot of structure. He likes to come in, start making phone calls…
KILMEADE: Because he wants to be creative.
SIMS: … cut deals, and be creative…
KILMEADE: He says if my schedule’s too packed, I can’t beat that (ph).
SIMS: That’s right. That’s right. That’s OK, but you need to have the staff with processes in place where when he gets creative and makes a call those things can be implemented. That was kind of the difference between Kelly Priebus. The problem with Kelly was he tried to impose that – his will on the president, too…
SIMS: … and that’s where that relationship fell apart.
KILMEADE: I also heard Keith Hewer (ph) told – were telling people Kelly does not like the president.
SIMS: Yes, and I think that was accurate, and there’s scenes in the book where – I mean, there’s one scene in the book where Kelly’s so mad and he’s like, “this is the worst blanking job I’ve ever had in my life and people think I care if they write about me getting fired. If that happened, it’d be the best day I’ve had since I’ve been here.” There’s another scene in the book where…
KILMEADE: Did you hear that?
SIMS: Oh, yes, yes.
KILMEADE: And where was the president?
SIMS: When that happened? I’m not sure…
KILMEADE: But he wasn’t there?
SIMS: No, no, no. That was in Kelly’s office, yes.
KILMEADE: All right, so obviously so he took that job and he was let go at the break (ph), but you saw them fight a lot?
SIMS: Kelly and the president? Not really. No, I think – look. One of the things the president does is it’s not abnormal for him to, you know, ask anybody about anybody else.
SIMS: So if you were here, he’d be like, “Brian, what do we think about the coverage today? What are we thinking about the way they –“ And so, it’s like, you know, he’d see me. “Hey, what’s going on with Sean today?” You know, he’d say, “what’s going on with Kelly today,” you know, whatever. It was more kind of like frustration to other people more than it was really bumping heads.
KILMEADE: Right. Did he accurately describe you as someone he barely knew?
SIMS: No, no.
KILMEADE: He knows you?
SIMS: Oh yes, of course. Yes, sure.
KILMEADE: So why did he write that?
SIMS: I mean I think he was getting a lot of pressure from some of the people that are around him in there that are not portrayed in the way that they would like to be portrayed.
KILMEADE: Does it bother you that he’s mad at you?
SIMS: Yes and no. No, in the sense that I knew that that was a possibility going into it. If you’re going to write just an honest book about it, that that was a chance, so it doesn’t in that way.
On the other hand — look, here’s somebody I devoted two years of my life to serving. My whole thing in this book in a lot of ways is, I don’t like this whole idea of the resistance from the inside. I didn’t agree with Donald Trump on everything, a lot of times I disagreed with things when we were in there, but when you’re a staffer you have two options.
KILMEADE: Did you ever leak to the press?
SIMS: No. No. But you’ve got …
KILMEADE: So you’re not a viper? You say that (inaudible) you’re a viper to others on the inside?
SIMS: Hundred percent. I mean, the kind of — the Trump’s enemies list story that’s gotten so much pickup is a great example of when he’s asking me, who are these people and I start dishing on my colleagues, I didn’t think in retrospect that that was an honorable thing to do and I realized that I had gotten caught up in this kind of game of thrones, so to speak, where we’re all fighting with each other and I’m trying to push Sean out, so I’m trying to bring the Mooch so that we can get rid of him, we can get rid of Ryan, and I’m looking at that like, how does this serve the country?
So, when I say I was a viper, that I was part of that, there are a lot of things like that that I wish I had done differently.
KILMEADE: But you wish — you were trying to get Sean out?
SIMS: Oh yes, yes, sure. And I go through the whole thing in the book.
KILMEADE: And you were trying to get — you liked — you thought Scaramucci was a good fit?
SIMS: I did. I did. I thought that the one thing he really got was kind of the thing I was just talking about, which is, he was trying to subordinate his views to the president and he was a fierce defender of the president and the workplace culture on the comms and press team there was really bad and Scaramucci — I mean, people say what they want about him, but he’s a fun guy, he’s got a big heart and he loved the president, I thought that was going to be a good fit.
KILMEADE: So, Scott McClellan was somebody that wrote a book about the Bush years, took — and calling out Bush 41, 43 and calling out Carl Rove in particular and kind of poisoned the well to all his friends.
Dana Perino was there, witnessed it, she felt especially affronted because that was her boss, technically, at the time. Here she weighed in on you yesterday, cut 31.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It’s a friend of mine who know shim suggested that he wants to be Alabama’s Omarosa, which is not a compliment, okay? That’s a — and here’s what I think, I don’t care what might have happened in Kellyanne’s office, if you are the staffer and you’re there and you think that it’s inappropriate, you should resign.
But, I think it’s highly inappropriate to then go sell a book, especially while the president is still in office, and yes, maybe the book portrays the president positively, but it doesn’t matter. They’re in a news cycle that is not good for them right now.
This guy goes out and makes a $1 million advance for a book, $1 million advance …
UNKNOWN: He made $1 million gross (ph).
PERINO: … for this book and he goes out and it would be hard for him to be trusted again by anyone. And he’s a talented young person and I think that he has a lot — he had a lot of promise. I think this was a bad decision. He could have written this book after the administration and that would have been a better time to do it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KILMEADE: Do you want to take that on?
SIMS: Well, I think that that’s an understandable perspective and I get where she’s coming from on that, but ultimately I would say what was missing, what I thought was really missing was a fair and honest portrayal of what’s going on in there. I mean, look, right now it is almost impossible to watch the media and figure out what’s true and what’s not.
It is not an Omarosa book. This is not a burn the place down book. I think it’s, in some ways, it is a service to the American people and in ways to the president because here’s the truth about it, and I think if people read that going into 2020 they’re able to make an honest assessment of what they think of him, what they think of the people that are around him and that’s going to be an important thing as people go the polls and vote in 2020.
KILMEADE: So, you’re helping the voter by writing the book?
SIMS: I think so. I think so. Because where else are you going to get it? I mean look, I take on Bob Woodward’s book, for instance. Bob Woodward, the most legendary journalist in America and I point out very specifically how there are some things in that book that are made up out of thin air. I’m not saying he made them up, I’m saying he’s reliant on these anonymous sources that we don’t freaking know —
KILMEADE: Steve Bannon (inaudible).
SIMS: — you know, we — we — we guess who some of them are but we don’t know, we don’t know what their agenda is. Look, I put my name on it. You know, like I said, it’s not a burn the place down, let’s make up some stories to kill him, it’s not going to make up some stuff to make it seem the greatest thing ever. I feel like this is the only offering right now in the space that’s like a firsthand account, I was in the room, I don’t have to rely on other sources and I’m willing to put my name on it.
KILMEADE: But Cliff, who would hire you now?
SIMS: Well I’ve got a lot of corporate consulting clients now —
SIMS: — but ultimately, look, here’s the thing. My identity is not wrapped up in being a political staffer. I don’t frankly care if I ever work in Washington again. I came to this — to — to Washington D.C. at a — at a unique time in history to serve a president and I served him loyally and faithfully and well while I was there. And if I never worked in politics again, that’s OK because my identity is wrapped up in my faith, not in what my job is.
KILMEADE: Right. But do you think you’re being unfaithful by telling these stories behind the scenes about people that probably don’t want them told?
SIMS: I think it would be unfaithful to tell lies. And I think it would also be unfair to — look, I was there for 500 days. You could — everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth is newsworthy. You could write 27 volumes on the things he says. The stories that I tell I think make a larger point about who Donald Trump is and what he’s about.
KILMEADE: And just before we go, rate his first two years. One to 10.
SIMS: I think on policy I’d give it an eight. Look, I’m a conservative. I’m for all this stuff. I fought hard for all that stuff. Stylistically, lot of it’s not my style. I’d rate it a little bit lower on that, the way that — that he’s — that he’s so combative but I also understand that because he’s under siege all day.
KILMEADE: Do you — do you believe that he wants to win reelection?
SIMS: I do, yes.
KILMEADE: Do you believe he will?
SIMS: I think if the Democrats nominate — the last scene (ph) of the book, he says the Democrats are going to nominate a kneeler, quote-unquote, where he’s like talking about, you know, the American flag —
SIMS: — protest thing. Point is like a far-left socialist type. We’re going to have ourselves another big picture election, which direction do we want to go. I don’t think the country wants to go that direction, I think he wins. This Howard Schultz thing is probably the best news that he’s heard in a long time, too. If he runs as an independent and siphons off even more of those Democrats, then yes, I think he’s got a real shot.
KILMEADE: All right. And by the way, by him tweeting at your book and criticizing it, I think it’s top five on Amazon right now.
SIMS: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.
KILMEADE: Right. All right, Cliff Sims, it’s great to see you again.
SIMS: Man, thanks for having me.
KILMEADE: Best of luck down the road. He’s the author of “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the White House”. Cliff Sims, thanks.
SIMS: Thanks for having me.