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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump was frustrated about leaks — specifically leaks attributed to "White House officials" — that were critical of him.

Behind the scenes: Cliff Sims, a young White House communications aide who had bonded with Trump during the campaign, slipped through the private dining room and was ushered into the private study, just off the Oval Office.

As recounted in Sims' memoir — "Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House," out Jan. 29 from Thomas Dunne Books — the minister's son from Alabama was soon sitting face-to-face with the man he still referred to as "DJT," in leftover campaign lingo.

  • This was in 2017, when West Wing chaos was a constant storyline in the media.
  • Trump and Sims, then 33, had talked on the phone the night before.
  • Trump wanted to know who Sims thought was leaking, and said to come see him — but to come through the back, so the senior staff wouldn't know.

As recounted in a passage from "Team of Vipers" that you're seeing first on Axios:

“Give me their names,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “I want these people out of here. I’m going to take care of this. We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-­feeders.”
Only in retrospect did I see how remarkable this was. I was sitting there with the President of the United States basically compiling an enemies list — but these enemies were within his own administration. If it had been a horror movie, this would have been the moment when everyone suddenly realizes the call is coming from inside the house.
The President proceeded to name White House staffer after White House staffer. Almost no one was deemed beyond reproach—not his chief of staff, not senior aides, almost no one other than those with whom he shared a last name. He wanted me to help him judge their loyalty. How, I wondered, had it come to this?

Trump took out one of the black Sharpies that he usually carries in his coat pocket.

  • As Sims dished, Trump scrawled two lists on a stiff card with the White House seal at the top.
  • One list was people he could trust. The other was people he couldn’t, and wanted to let go.
  • The combined lists included about 15 people — 10 of them naughty, and five of them (all campaign alumni) nice.

The leakers formed Trump's unofficial Enemies List — all on his own staff. Most of the targets survived, at least for a while. But Trump seemed to revel in his new inside knowledge:

  • The card was later spotted in the president's breast pocket — a reminder of what he perceived as the enemies within.
Credit: Thomas Dunne Books

Sims portrays what he describes in his author's note as "the unvarnished Donald Trump, a man whose gifts and flaws are both larger than life, written by someone with an appreciation of both."

  • "Lincoln famously had his Team of Rivals. Trump had his Team of Vipers."
  • "We served. We fought. We brought our egos. We brought our personal agendas and vendettas. We were ruthless. And some of us, I assume, were good people."
  • "This is what I saw. And, unlike the many leakers in the White House, I have put my name on it."

Go deeper:

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Report: LGBTQ+ Afghans' lives "dramatically worsened" under Taliban rule

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

LGBTQ+ Afghans have been threatened, attacked and "faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety" since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, per a report published Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them," per a statement from study co-author J. Lester Feder.

3 hours ago - World

Canadian Indigenous group finds 93 suspected unmarked graves

A makeshift memorial honoring the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, last May. Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous leaders in Canada's western province of British Columbia said Tuesday they believe they've found 93 unmarked graves near a former boarding school.

The big picture: Hundreds of mass graves have been found at the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children since last May, when the remains of 215 children were uncovered at one such site in B.C.

6 hours ago - World

Coast Guard searches for 39 people after boat capsizes off Florida coast

A U.S. Coast Guard ship leaving its base in Miami Beach, Florida, in July. Photo: AP/Marta Lavandier

U.S. Coast Guard crews were searching into the night for 39 people whose boat sank off Florida's coast over the weekend after traveling from the Bahamas.

The big picture: A "good Samaritan" contacted the Coast Guard about 8 a.m. Tuesday to say they "rescued a man clinging to a capsized vessel" 45 miles east of Fort Pierce, per a tweet from the agency, which noted it was dealing with "a suspected human smuggling venture."