Sep 1, 2019

Top literary agents say Trump's ex-personal secretary could make millions

A book with dollar signs as the title

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A couple of Washington's top literary agents say President Trump's former personal secretary, Madeleine Westerhout, could make millions if she writes a tell-all of her time working for the president.

Driving the news: Keith Urbahn and Matt Latimer — who run the literary agency Javelin and secured 7-figure book deals for former FBI director James Comey and former White House official Cliff Sims — say most publishers in the country right now want a meeting with Westerhout.

  • But a source close to Westerhout says she has "no intention" of writing a book about her time working for the president. The source added that Westerhout had "very positive" experiences with President Trump and would have nothing negative to say.

Context: Westerhout resigned last week after Trump learned she'd shared intimate details about him and his family during off-the-record drinks with reporters.

The big picture: Latimer and Urbahn say that if Westerhout is willing to endure the legal, media and presidential onslaught that would come as a result of turning on her former boss, then she could get the biggest literary payday so far in the Trump era.

  • "This is someone who had total access, saw everything, which Trump obviously knows," says Latimer. "If she was willing to say 'here's everything I saw and I'm not trying to protect anybody,' then she could have a huge advance."

The bottom line: Urbahn says if Westerhout's anecdotes of her time working for the president at intimate quarters are "sufficiently shocking" she could get an advance of $5 million or more. "It doesn't get much higher. I mean that would be a major score," he said. "But everything has to align."

  • "And I still think there would be hesitation on the part of both editors and the reading public to buy a book that purely dished," Urbahn adds. "There has to be an argument or a higher calling for why you're doing this. Otherwise it would come across as transactional. ... It's a tricky path. It has to be revelations plus here's why the American people need to know this."

The other side: Former colleagues of Westerhout say they don't expect she'll write a tell-all book. And Latimer and Urbahn say their experience with Trump White House officials makes them think she won't do it, either.

  • Latimer and Urbahn say they've spoken to numerous current and former Trump administration officials about writing books. And "most people, so far, end up taking the safer course, which is, 'Eh, I don't want to be tweeted about every day, with people attacking me and I have to move out of my house'," Latimer says.
  • "What the administration tends to do is offer people cushy jobs somewhere to keep people quiet, so she's got to weigh all those things," Latimer adds.

Sean Spicer, who served as President Trump's press secretary, left the White House in 2017 and met with publishers who were eager to pay him big bucks for a tell-all. Spicer ultimately took a more modest advance than he could have gotten because he wrote a positive book about the president in which he did not reveal any confidential information from his time in the White House.

  • "Anyone leaving this administration that's interested in writing a book has a choice to make," Spicer says. "Number one: Go for the big bucks, tell all, but then worry about whether anyone in the future will continue to trust you. Two is to share your story but maintain a level of loyalty, integrity and trustworthiness."

So who would be these literary agents' No. 1 pick among former Trump administration officials? Latimer and Urbahn agree that if former Defense Secretary James Mattis was willing to offer his candid assessment of Trump as commander in chief — rather than write a leadership book that avoids discussing Trump — then he'd be by far their top choice.

  • But Urbahn says it's getting "too late" even for Mattis to get a staggering advance as any such book would need to be released before the 2020 election. "The window is small and closing," he says.
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