A Warning


By Anonymous

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#1 New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller: An unprecedented behind-the-scenes portrait of the Trump presidency from the anonymous senior official whose first words of warning about the president rocked the nation’s capital.

On September 5, 2018, the New York Times published a bombshell essay and took the rare step of granting its writer anonymity. Described only as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” the author provided eyewitness insight into White House chaos, administration instability, and the people working to keep Donald Trump’s reckless impulses in check.

With the 2020 election on the horizon, Anonymous is speaking out once again. In this book, the original author pulls back the curtain even further, offering a first-of-its-kind look at the president and his record — a must-read before Election Day. It will surprise and challenge both Democrats and Republicans, motivate them to consider how we judge our nation’s leaders, and illuminate the consequences of re-electing a commander in chief unfit for the role.

This book is a sobering assessment of the man in the Oval Office and a warning about something even more important — who we are as a people.


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“Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

—Theodore Roosevelt


“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionaries and rebels—men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

—Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Donald J. Trump administration will be remembered as among the most tumultuous in American history. Future historians will record the volatility of the president's decision-making, as well as the internal struggles of a government forced to grapple with it. They will write that his advisors came to find him unfit for the job. He couldn't focus on governing, and he was prone to abuses of power, from ill-conceived schemes to punish his political rivals to a propensity for undermining vital American institutions. They will document how officials considered drastic—some might say desperate—measures to warn the American people. During the Watergate scandal, key government leaders quit in protest of President Richard Nixon's inappropriate activities. The press dubbed it the “Saturday Night Massacre.” What is not known is that the same measure was considered less than halfway into the Trump administration, as top advisors and cabinet-level officials contemplated what might be called a midnight self-massacre, resigning en masse to call attention to Trump's misconduct and erratic leadership. The idea was abandoned out of fear that it would make a bad situation worse. It got worse anyway. Full awareness of the deteriorating state of affairs dawned on me late one evening, when the loss of a good man revealed the true nature of a troubled one. It was the evening that ultimately led to the writing of this book.


On August 25, 2018, John McCain, one of America's last great statesmen, died at home in Arizona. In the days that followed, the country mourned the passing of an American hero. McCain, a former military officer, first came to be known to the public for the five years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he was regularly beaten and tortured by enemy forces. One of his captors shattered his right shoulder. They broke his left arm. They cracked his ribs. In his agony, John contemplated suicide. For the rest of his life, he was unable to raise his arms to their full height due to his injuries and the after-effects of the torture. Yet when his captors offered him an early release, he refused until all other Americans captured before him were set free.

McCain finally was released in 1973. He was welcomed home by President Richard Nixon and later embraced as a Republican leader of the future by Ronald Reagan. He went on to build a vast legacy of public service as a member of the US House of Representatives, a senator, and a two-time candidate for president. At his funeral in Washington, DC, John was celebrated and mourned by a bipartisan crowd of government leaders, foreign heads of state, and millions of Americans who watched and listened nationwide.

“In one epic life,” former president George W. Bush told the mourners, “was written the courage and greatness of our country.” Former president Barack Obama took to the podium to herald McCain as “a patriot who embodied so much that is best in America.” He added: “When John spoke of virtues like service and duty, it didn't ring hollow. They weren't just words to him. It was a truth that he had lived and for which he was prepared to die.” A central theme echoed throughout the service. John McCain was a man of character, thoroughly committed to his principles and worthy of reverence, including by people who didn't always agree with him, or who he occasionally irritated with his stubbornness and persistence.

But one man did not share these sentiments. Instead of feeling somberness, he felt spite. Instead of respect, he offered resentment. That man was the sitting president of the United States. It was no secret that Donald J. Trump hated John McCain. “He is not a war hero,” Trump remarked in 2015 to a stunned audience in Iowa. “I like people who weren't captured.” Though he received McCain's support during the general election, then-candidate Trump bristled when the senator withdrew his endorsement in the wake of the Access Hollywood scandal, in which the businessman bragged about grabbing women's private parts, and he could not abide McCain's criticisms once in office.

It was no surprise that the president was agitated by the outpouring of public appreciation toward the senator. He is flustered whenever the spotlight shifts away from him, but especially if it moves toward a perceived rival, even a deceased one. What was surprising was the lengths to which he would go to settle the score. President Trump, in unprecedented fashion, was determined to use his office to limit the nation's recognition of John McCain's legacy.

After being lowered briefly on the day of the senator's death, the American flag atop the White House was raised the next evening. Aides worried this would send a bad signal, and tried to have it re-lowered. White House senior advisors implored President Trump to issue a proclamation for flags at all federal office buildings to remain at half-staff. They urged him to issue a formal statement on the late senator's death and legacy. These few gestures are standard protocol by any president when a distinguished senator dies, regardless of their party, as a sign of respect for the office and a demonstration that some things come ahead of partisanship. President Trump rebuffed each request. In fact, he wanted all government buildings to hoist their flags back up. Members of the staff were dumbfounded. Many among us had disagreements with John over the years, but we all honored his service to the nation as we would any person who wore the flag of the United States into battle and suffered at the hands of an enemy, let alone his later contributions to our country.

The standoff was broken not by a change of heart, but by public pressure. President Trump faced withering criticism for withholding support for McCain. Internally the temperature was rising. After frantic pleas from the communications team and increasingly bad television coverage, the president finally relented and allowed for a short statement to be drafted and for a proclamation to be issued. He also allowed administration surrogates to attend memorial services in his place. The flags, which by then most agencies had put at half-staff anyway instead of waiting longer for a presidential order, were finally lowered everywhere.


Less than two years into the Trump administration, this episode was almost unremarkable. By then Americans had grown accustomed to the president's pettiness, and they were numb to the endless controversies. Most probably tried to look the other way.

But I couldn't.

I'd spent enough time watching one pointless indignity after another. This one, targeting a veteran and former POW, was the last straw. What did it say about our president? What did it tell us about his values, virtues, and motives? Someone in the administration needed to say something, anything. There was silence. So the next morning I started drafting an op-ed about Donald Trump's lack of a moral compass and about the efforts of a group of administration officials trying to keep the government afloat amid the madness.

“I would know,” I wrote of those officials. “I am one of them.”

“Resistance” Revisited

Since that opinion piece was published in the New York Times on September 5, 2018, the instability within the Trump administration has intensified. One element has remained constant, however. The president still lacks the guiding principles needed to govern our nation and fails to display the rudimentary qualities of leadership we should expect of any commander in chief.

In the Times op-ed, I wrote of a quiet “resistance” of Trump appointees—at the highest levels—trying to manage his rash impulses. We wanted the administration to succeed and supported significant components of the president's agenda, but we were alarmed by his unstable behavior, in public and private. Those who tried to steer him away from self-destructive impulses were not the so-called “Deep State,” I wrote, but the “Steady State.”

This idea was assailed by the president. But the notion, that his team is working to protect him from himself, has since become one of the defining narratives of the Trump administration. Indeed, it was a hallmark takeaway from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. “The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” he wrote, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” This included the president's demand that White House counsel Don McGahn fire the special counsel, a request McGahn rebuffed for fear it would “trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre” and lead to Donald Trump's impeachment. It probably would have.

President Trump should not be shocked that wary aides and cabinet members saved his presidency. My colleagues have done so many times. He should be worried—we all should be worried—that these reasonable professionals are vanishing. The president is chafed by those who dare to challenge him. He has targeted and removed many of these officials, from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Chief of Staff John Kelly, one by one. Others have grown tired of the charade and left of their own accord. With every dismissal or departure of a level-headed senior leader, the risks to the country grow, and the president is validated by a shrinking cadre of advisors who abet or encourage his bad behavior. We are already seeing the consequences.

The stewards of what I call the Steady State, what is left of it anyway, are public servants who push back against ill-considered or reckless decisions. They are not traitors or mutineers. They give the president their best advice and speak truth to power. They do not hesitate to challenge Trump when they believe he is wrong. They try to manage their White House offices or government agencies in a way that keeps them running despite the president's temperamental manner. When they fail to persuade him to change course, they work with the president and others in the administration to limit the fallout from decisions that will have deleterious consequences, which happens to be an enduring dilemma here inside the Trump administration.

Increasingly, I've doubted whether this type of environment is at all effective, let alone sustainable. Can Americans put their faith in a cabal of unelected officials to maintain stability? More importantly, should they? This question is more urgent than ever because there is a chance Donald Trump, despite his extraordinary flaws and the threat of impeachment in Congress, will be reelected in 2020. By then the guardrails will be gone entirely, and freed from the threat of defeat, this president will feel emboldened to double down on his worst impulses. This may be our last chance to act to hold the man accountable. Before doing so, we must look deeper at the roots of the present disorder, which is why I have written this book.

What This Book Is

The criticism of the Trump administration is so frenzied that ordinary Americans are struggling to discern truth from fiction. There is only so much the public can absorb. When everything is a crisis and a scandal, the end result is that nothing is. Americans are fed up with the cacophony, becoming numb to it. We are looking the other way, which has caused us to lose sight of what is important in the national debate.

I want to cut through the noise. I agreed to serve in the administration with the hope that President Trump would be successful and remembered for the right reasons, even if many of us had serious misgivings about signing on. While the president can claim a number of real accomplishments, overall that hope was dashed—and our misgivings validated—by hard experience. Through a toxic combination of amorality and indifference, the president has failed to rise to the occasion in fulfilling his duties. In these pages, I will underscore what Americans should actually be concerned about when it comes to Trump and his administration, diagnose the problems, and propose how we can move forward. The opinions presented herein are my own; yet, there is scarcely a criticism leveled that is not also shared by many other officials on the team or those who have departed. Most are afraid to say so publicly.

This book was conceived of, outlined, and written quickly amidst a flurry of fast-moving events and turmoil that is the norm in Trump's Washington. Nonetheless, it is focused on aspects of the presidency and this moment in our political life that are unlikely to change anytime soon. Each chapter highlights an aspect of the Trump presidency that I believe is essential for the public to consider as they decide whether to keep Donald Trump in office beyond 2020.

A great deal has been written to document the administration's chaos, an overused but unfortunately apt word. Some books have captured the atmosphere more accurately than others. Most of them have been authored by journalists and outside commentators who've only witnessed it secondhand or spoken to select sources, leaving readers to wonder how much of it is real and how much of it is “spin” promoted by people with an ax to grind. In these pages, I've done my best to provide an unvarnished assessment of Donald Trump and his presidency based on my own observations and experience, not baseless rumors. Certain content in this book will confirm existing reporting or put it in a more accurate light, some of it will be new, and many recollections will have to remain in my memory until the right time, lest the debate devolve into one about my identity, which I will discuss in a moment.

This text is written for a broad audience, not just for those already opposed to the president. Undoubtedly, his critics who read this book will feel justifiable outrage over its contents and greater unease about our nation's present trajectory. They will fear the costs of a reelected Donald Trump, and they are right to be concerned. Unsavory figures in his orbit have relished the possibility of another four years—not in the “we can do good for the country” way you would hope, but rather with the attitude that “no one will be able to stop us.” I share your worry.

This text is also written with the hope that it might be given to the Trump supporter, or at least a subset of them. Many reasonable people voted for Trump because they love their country, wanted to shake up the establishment, and felt that the alternative was worse. I know you because I've felt the same way. I've worked with you. Many of you are my friends. But I also know deep inside you feel that something is not right about this presidency. That Donald Trump's behavior is not tolerable, and is often embarrassing. We have ignored what we didn't want to see. We've made excuses: “He's just got a different style.” “He may be brash, but he gets it done.” “The other side is worse.” “The media is stacked against him.” I shared those sentiments, but this book is in part an effort to demonstrate why excuses have blinded us to some ugly but necessary truths. I challenge you to withhold your reservations and read this to the end.

On Anonymity

Let me paint a picture of America. An exceptional country, founded with a clear sense of purpose, is conflicted and at a crossroads. Citizens are more divided than ever, right down to the household level, and sensational media coverage only compounds it. The rhetoric of politicians has grown coarse. Congress is dysfunctional. Public officials are at odds over how to fix the mess unlike ever before.

This may be the America familiar to you in the present day, but it is not the one I am describing. This was our country in the year 1787, when a roaring debate was taking place across the United States. Our young republic was beset with a weak central government that put national cohesion in danger. America's future was in doubt. All thirteen states sent representatives to Philadelphia for an emergency convention to discuss improving the Articles of Confederation to better unify the country. Instead of simply revising the Articles, secret meetings were held at the convention, leading to the creation of an entirely new governing document altogether.

Not everyone supported it. But with the backing of thirty-nine of fifty-five delegates, a draft Constitution was released to the public for consideration and ratification. Approval was hardly certain. Two camps emerged: federalists, who wanted a stronger central government, and antifederalists, who preferred more power in the hands of the individual states. What ensued was one of the most spirited and contentious debates about democracy in American history.

Three American leaders decided to publish a series of rapid-fire essays—anonymously—to rebut criticism of the document and whip up public support. The authors were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, and they chose to disguise their identities under a single pen name, Publius. These essays collectively became known as the Federalist Papers. Aside from helping to make the case for the Constitution, they are regarded as among the most incisive elucidations of the American political system.

Why did they disguise their names? First of all, two of them were convention delegates in Philadelphia and wanted to hide the fact that they had helped author the Constitution. Disclosure would surely have led to charges of bias. Secondly, they were responding to criticisms that had likewise been levied anonymously by other writers. Most importantly, they wanted Americans to focus on the message itself, not on the messenger. The subject matter was too important to let the national conversation sink into a quarrel about the personalities involved. They hid their names, not out of fear of debate, but to further it.

America's Founders could never have imagined today's world, where public mobs are supercharged by social media. Our attention spans have withered, and our national dialogue has been debased by the politics of personal destruction. When someone speaks, the mob attacks the person, and the ideas are left in the rubble. Then the herd moves on to a new controversy. I am no Hamilton, Madison, or Jay by any stretch, but I believe their example is instructive in our time. At a moment when our nation is again at a crossroads, we need meaningful political discourse that goes beyond the number of followers someone has or the volume of snark they can squeeze into a 140-character message to make it go viral.

I have decided to publish this anonymously because this debate is not about me. It is about us. It is about how we want the presidency to reflect our country, and that is where the discussion should center. Some will call this “cowardice.” My feelings are not hurt by the accusation. Nor am I unprepared to attach my name to criticism of President Trump. I may do so, in due course. But when the sitting president prefers to focus on distractions, we need to focus on his character and his record. Removing my identity from the equation deprives him of an opportunity to create a distraction. What will he do when there is no person to attack, only an idea?

So for now, if asked, I will strenuously deny I am the author of this book, including when the president demands we each disavow it. What's more, my descriptions of the president and this administration have been carefully written to prevent any inadvertent disclosure. This text includes an array of firsthand accounts, including some provided by officials other than me. Certain details have been withheld or modified without changing the facts in order to preserve the anonymity of those involved. I may also refer to myself in the third person, where needed. As a result, anyone whose sole purpose in reading this book is to uncover names, including my own, will find they are wasting their time.

This is not about eminence. I am not seeking the spotlight or to burnish my reputation. That is why I published my views anonymously in the first place, with the hope of focusing attention on the substance. Sadly, when this is released, little can be done to keep the conversation in Washington from devolving into a contemptible parlor game to guess the identity of the author. Outside of the Beltway, however, I believe Americans are starved for a real discussion going into the 2020 election about the qualities that are requisite for a president. If so, they have come to the right place.

To be clear, I have not written this to settle scores. My primary focus is the president of the United States, not taking shots at my colleagues by peddling a “tell all” narrative of Washington intrigue. I have deliberately limited my descriptions of fellow senior officials, and where possible I have avoided discussing their actions and opinions by name. This town has been corrupted by a slash-and-burn culture, where people tell stories through the press meant to cut others down while building themselves up. This is one of the many symptoms of our fraying civic life. I will do my best not to exacerbate it with this book.

My motive is also decidedly not financial. When I was told I could earn a seven-figure monetary advance for writing this work, I refused to even consider it. Our republic is at risk, and I'm not seeking to profit from issuing that warning. If there are royalties from the sale of this book, I plan on donating them substantially to nonprofit organizations that focus on government accountability and on supporting those who stand up for the truth in repressive countries around the world.

Here at home, one of the recipient organizations will be the nonpartisan White House Correspondents' Association, whose mission is to ensure a free press and robust coverage of the presidency, as well as to assist the next generation of aspiring reporters through generous scholarships. If in any measure my tenure in public service can help more journalists hold their leaders to account, then something useful will have come of it.

There are many “leaks” from this administration, perhaps more than any before it. While some officials tell stories to reporters to brag, to advance a personal agenda, or to retaliate against others, many appear to be doing so because they are alarmed at what they have seen in this White House. Sources decline to attach their names to these anecdotes out of fear of retribution. The reluctance is not surprising given the president's penchant for using his position to mock, bully, berate, and punish. I have heard his words of warning to administration officials thinking about departing, and I have seen how his supporters torment those who have crossed him, including going after the innocent family members of dissenters.

Donald Trump is fond of telling officials that he learned an important lesson in business: People are not scared when you threaten a lawsuit, but they are scared when you actually sue them. That is among his favored methods of argument—attacking critics to intimidate and silence them. He has been doing it for years.

After I published the op-ed in the Times, Trump responded with a one-word tweet: “TREASON?” Those seven letters say it all. To the president, criticism is treasonous. I find this to be a very un-American position. Former president Theodore Roosevelt argued that it was treacherous not to criticize the nation's chief executive, as long as it was honest criticism. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public,” he wrote. “Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.” We do not owe the president our silence. We owe him the truth.

It is worth noting that there is a difference between legitimate criticism and the careless release of sensitive information. Roosevelt said it was “unpatriotic not to tell the truth” about the president, except “in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.” In other words, national security information must be protected. I agree. There have been instances in which, on matters of great sensitivity, the current president has failed the American people by making poorly reasoned decisions, whether in the White House Situation Room or in sensitive conversations with foreign leaders. Some of these examples have been declassified, which we will discuss. Those which haven't will not be the subject of this book and such details have been omitted. When individuals leak classified information to the press even to make a valid political critique, it can put Americans in danger. Such disclosures should rightfully be condemned and have no place in our public discourse. There are appropriate avenues for whistleblowers to raise classified concerns, which some have already done.

At the same time, it is equally unacceptable for a president to conflate personal criticism with a national security threat. In summer 2018, he ordered staff to revoke the security clearances of former intelligence officials who disagreed with him, and he directed the White House press secretary to announce that the credentials of former CIA director John Brennan, a frequent administration critic, would in fact be rescinded. What would we have said if his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had done the same? Only a few weeks later, in reference to the op-ed, he demanded that “the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her [the author] over to the government at once!” Trump went further and launched a search effort using taxpayer dollars and official government resources to draw up a short list of people considered potential suspects, before the effort fizzled out for lack of leads. It was Trumpian in every way, a pointless and emotion-driven exercise.


  • "What Americans should actually be concerned about when it comes to Trump and his administration."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 15.0px Helvetica; color: #201f1e; -webkit-text-stroke: #201f1e; background-color: #ffffff}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Rachel Maddow
  • "A scathing portrait of a president and administration in chaos."—Susan Page, USA Today
  • "In a year overflowing with books about Donald Trump...[A WARNING] is set to be the most-discussed political book of the year."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 15.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; background-color: #ffffff}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}TIME ("Must Read Books of 2019")
  • "This slim volume is...the sounding of a national alarm."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 14.7px Helvetica; color: #201f1e; -webkit-text-stroke: #201f1e; background-color: #ffffff}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Ron Elving, NPR
  • "Offers eye-popping insider details"—CNN
  • "Explosive."—Alexandra Alter, The New York Times
  • "Alarming...What is most revealing about A WARNING is the warning it delivers about the Republican Party."—Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker
  • "There is no modern historical parallel."—Phil Rucker, The Washington Post
  • "Paints a chaotic picture of the administration."—Newsweek
  • "Anonymous has tales to tell...The writer does deliver...[A WARNING] stands to add fuel to the fire."—The Guardian
  • "Anonymous writes authoritatively...[A WARNING] will sound familiar to a number of current and former White House officials."—Maggie Haberman, The New York Times
  • "A WARNING is full of revelations."—GQ Magazine

On Sale
Nov 19, 2019
Page Count
272 pages


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