Excerpts from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
“Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.”
Chris Christie noticed a piece in the New York Times – that’s how it all started. The New Jersey governor had dropped out of the presidential race in February 2016 and thrown what support he had behind Donald Trump. In late April he saw the article. It described meetings between representatives of the remaining candidates still in the race – Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders – and the Obama White House. Anyone who still had any kind of shot at becoming president of the United States apparently needed to start preparing to run the federal government. The guy Trump sent to the meeting was, in Christie’s estimation, comically underqualified. Christie called up Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to ask why this critical job hadn’t been handed to someone who actually knew something about government. “We don’t have anyone,” said Lewandowski.
Christie volunteered himself for the job: head of the Donald Trump presidential transition team. “It’s the next best thing to being president,” he told friends. “You get to plan the presidency.” He went to see Trump about it. Trump said he didn’t want a presidential transition team. Why did anyone need to plan anything before he actually became president? It’s legally required, said Christie. Trump asked where the money was going to come from to pay for the transition team. Christie explained that Trump could either pay for it himself or take it out of campaign funds. Trump didn’t want to pay for it himself. He didn’t want to take it out of campaign funds, either, but he agreed, grudgingly…
…And so Christie set out to prepare for the unlikely event that Donald Trump would one day be elected president of the United States. Not everyone in Trump’s campaign was happy to see him on the job.
…Back in 2005, when he was U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, Christie had prosecuted and jailed Kushner’s father, Charles, for tax fraud. Christie’s investigation revealed, in the bargain, that Charles Kushner had hired a prostitute to seduce his own brother-in-law, whom he suspected of cooperating with Christie, videotaped the sexual encounter, and sent the tape to his sister. The Kushners apparently took their grudges seriously, and Christie sensed that Jared still harbored one against him.
…And Christie soon found himself reporting everything he did to prepare for a Trump administration to an “executive committee.” The committee consisted of Jared [Kushner], Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Paul Manafort, Steve Mnuchin, and Jeff Sessions.
…The transition team now moved into an office in downtown Washington, DC, and went looking for people to occupy the top five hundred jobs in the federal government. They needed to fill all the cabinet positions, of course, but also a whole bunch of others that no one in the Trump campaign even knew existed. It’s not obvious how you find the next secretary of state, much less the next secretary of transportation – never mind who should sit on the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
…By August, 130 people were showing up every day, and hundreds more working part-time, at Trump transition headquarters.
…The first time Donald Trump paid any attention to any of this was when he read about it in the newspaper. The story revealed that Trump’s very own transition team, led by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, had raised several million dollars to pay the staff. The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office, on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find the governor of New Jersey seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, actually yelling, You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?? Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed, Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown Washington, DC, along with computers and trash cans and so on, but the campaign paid their people. To which Trump replied, Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.
Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition.
“I was fucking nervous as shit,” Bannon later told friends. “I go, ‘Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.'”
…Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Donald Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was one thirty-five in the morning, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said, “now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the tube without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff had been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It wasn’t hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government.
…The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.
That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble.
…After meeting with Pence, Christie was scheduled to brief the Trump children and Jared and the other members of Trump’s inner circle. He was surprised to find, suddenly included in this group, retired army lieutenant general Michael Flynn. Flynn was a job seeker the transition team had found reasons to be extremely wary of. Now he wanted to be named Trump’s national security adviser, which was maybe the most important job in the entire national security apparatus. The national security team inside the Trump transition – staffed with senior former military and intelligence officials – had thought that an especially bad idea. Flynn’s name wasn’t on the list. But here he was, in the meeting to decide who would do what in the Trump administration, and Ivanka was asking him what job he’d like to have.
…It wasn’t just Chris Christie who’d been fired. It was the entire transition team. … Bannon visited the transition headquarters a few days after he’d given Christie the news, and made a show of tossing the work the people there had done for Donald Trump into the garbage can. Trump was going to handle the transition more or less by himself. Not even Steve Bannon thought that was a good idea. “I was fucking nervous as shit,” Bannon later told friends. “I go, ‘Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.'”
…Even in normal times the people who