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Jonathan Karl’s ‘Betrayal’ unearths new details about Trump’s attack on democracy

On the Shelf

Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show

By Jonathan Karl
Dutton: 384 pages, $28

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The bountiful genre of Donald Trump books now has another entry, courtesy of Jonathan Karl. As the chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, he’s covered Trump since the start of his presidential campaign. Now he assesses the wreckage of the presidency in “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show.”

Although the book, released Tuesday, covers some of the same ground as others that have lingered on bestseller lists, there’s fresh reporting as well. Here’s a look at some of the new revelations from “Betrayal.”

Trump’s young loyalists

One of the central characters in Karl’s book is John McEntee, the young aide who became one of the most powerful officials in the White House during Trump’s last year in office. Despite his thin resumé and checkered past — he was previously responsible for carrying Trump’s bag, and he got fired when a background check revealed a gambling habit — he was later placed in charge of the personnel office, which meant he evaluated political appointees across the administration.

McEntee installed loyalists throughout federal agencies. One of those people was Josh Whitehouse, who worked at the Department of Homeland Security. While he was there, a former official named Miles Taylor wrote an op-ed claiming Trump had made the country “less secure.” (This is different from the infamous anonymous op-ed that he was later revealed to have written.)

Taylor had been the department’s chief of staff, and his name was on a plaque in a hallway, so Whitehouse grabbed a screwdriver to pull it off the wall. “I am removing the name of this traitor,” he said.

Karl writes that Whitehouse later compared Taylor to Brutus, who betrayed Julius Caesar in ancient Rome.

John McEntee, right, watches a campaign rally with President Trump on Sept. 26, 2020.

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Another memo

In the book “Peril,” Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa revealed a memo written by conservative lawyer John Eastman urging Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of the election on Jan. 6. It was a constitutionally dubious scheme with an undemocratic goal — and it wasn’t the only such document floating around Trump’s inner circle.

Karl reports that another memo written by Jenna Ellis, a campaign legal advisor, was forwarded to Pence’s team by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. This detail solidifies Meadows’ connection to schemes to overturn the election, which is being investigated by a special congressional committee.

Meadows has so far defied a subpoena, but it’s unclear if his calculation will change now that the Justice Department has indicted Steve Bannon, another Trump ally, for doing the same thing.

A tidal wave of conspiracies

It’s no secret that Trump indulged a startling array of falsehoods about the last election as part of his effort to cling to power. However, Karl finds new examples of how conspiracy theories were transmitted through Trump’s inner circle.

The president’s allies seemed to think they had a kindred spirit in Ezra Cohen, a Pentagon official who had previously worked for Michael Flynn, and they often sought his assistance. After the election, Flynn called Cohen to say that ballots needed to be seized, then yelled at him when Cohen said “it’s time to move on.”

Sidney Powell, Flynn’s lawyer who also advised Trump, later called Cohen to unspool a bizarre theory that Gina Haspel, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was trying to cover up election fraud and had been detained in Germany. “You need to launch a special operations mission to get her,” Powell reportedly told Cohen. (None of Powell’s wild claims were true.)

Kash Patel, who was serving as chief of staff to the acting defense secretary, asked Cohen to help track down two men in an Italian prison who supposedly knew about a scheme to use military satellites and computer hacking to rig the election.

“It was nuts, but the theory had spread on fringe websites and social media accounts tied to QAnon,” Karl writes. Cohen reportedly refused to help Patel.

A woman, left, in a face mask, and a man, both in business attire

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the certification of the election on Jan. 6.

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Hang Mike Pence?

Months after the Jan. 6 riot, Trump seemed unbothered that some of his supporters stormed the Capitol while shouting that they wanted to hang Pence. Karl asked him about the chants during an interview with Trump on March 18 at Mar-a-Lago, where the former president had retreated after leaving the White House.

Trump said he wasn’t worried about Pence because the vice president was well protected, and he made excuses for his supporters by saying “the people were very angry.”

“They were saying ‘hang Mike Pence,’” Karl replied, but Trump was undeterred.

“Because it’s common sense, Jon,” Trump said. He continued to complain about Pence’s decision to oversee certification of the election, asking, “How can you pass a vote that you know is fraudulent?”

Bartiromo “lost it”

Trump and America’s top cable news network have long had a symbiotic relationship, and sometimes it could be tough to tell whether television personalities were parroting the president or the other way around.

One of Trump’s most avid supporters has been Maria Bartiromo, who appears on Fox News and Fox Business. Although she once burnished a reputation as a serious financial journalist, she eagerly jumped down a rabbit hole of conspiracies about the election.

According to Karl’s reporting, Bartiromo even privately urged Atty. Gen. William Barr to investigate voter fraud despite a lack of evidence.

“She called me up and she was screaming,” Barr told Karl. “I yelled back at her. She’s lost it.”

A Fox News spokesperson denied the story.

The Trump Party?

As Trump took his last flight on Air Force One after leaving the White House, he had a contentious phone call with Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee. Not only did Trump say he felt abandoned by the party, Karl writes, he threatened to leave and create his own.

“I’m starting my own party,” Trump reportedly said. McDaniel tried to talk him out of it. “You cannot do that. If you do, we will lose forever.”

Trump didn’t seem to mind the prospect of dooming the party that had elevated him to the White House and stood by his side throughout a cascade of controversies. But McDaniel had another tactic to keep Trump on the team — his wallet. Karl writes that she made it clear to Trump’s team that the party would stop paying his legal bills and torpedo his ability to make money by renting out his lucrative list of 40 million supporters’ email addresses.

Karl reports that Trump backed down, and he denied even making the threat. “It never happened,” he said.

Further reading

If you have limited space on your bookshelf, you might be wondering how many more Trump books you can fit on there. Besides “Betrayal” and “Peril,” there’s also been “Frankly, We Did Win This Election,” by Michael Bender and “I Alone Can Fix It” by Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig.

There are more on the horizon. Jonathan Lemire is writing “The Big Lie” and Maggie Haberman is working on her own book as well.

There will be no shortage of reading to do — and even more if Trump decides to run for president again.

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