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‘Want to see the Lincoln bedroom?’: Trump relishes role as White House tour guide

President Trump presents the fast food offered to the Clemson Tigers at the White House on Jan. 14. He later gave many players an impromptu tour of the Oval Office. (Chris Kleponis/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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“We’ve remodeled it since then,” he said on a tour in December, said a person with direct knowledge of the event. In a visit in 2017, Trump told a TV anchor, “I’m told this is where Bill and Monica . . .” — stopping himself from going further, according to “Team of Vipers,” a new book by former White House aide Cliff Sims that The Washington Post obtained before its publication Tuesday.

Three other people who have embarked on a tour with Trump said he made similar comments regarding the former president and the White House intern, laughing and making facial expressions. The subject often leads to lengthy, sometimes crass conversations, aides said.

Often spending days ensconced in the presidential residence, Trump relishes giving tours to acquaintances and strangers by the hundreds, bragging all the while about improving it while he lives there, according to nearly a dozen visitors and current and former White House aides, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal details of the private events. With new chandeliers and imported artwork added during his tenure, showing guests around the White House is among his favorite activities, they said. 

During the 35 days that the government was partly shut down over his demand for border wall funding, Trump gave some visitors looks inside the West Wing, White House aides said. After holding a fast-food feast for the Clemson Tigers football team on Jan. 14, he surprised some players by taking them into the Oval Office.

“Most people want to keep parts of the White House private for their families and themselves,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said of previous presidents. “He’s very restless and doesn’t like desk work. He’d rather roam around and B.S. with people than hunker down.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said of the tours: “The president is proud of the White House and its rich history.”

The visits are often impromptu and usually involve several of Trump’s favorite spots, those who have been on the tours say.

When the president finishes dinners with members of Congress, he often raises the same question. “You want to see the Lincoln Bedroom?” he asks, before beckoning lawmakers up the stairs. He often remarks how tall President Lincoln was and how short the bed is during these visits, before noting the nearby Lincoln desk and the Bill of Rights, guests said. 

“I don’t know how he slept there,” Trump said on one tour in early 2018, according to a person on the tour. “He was a really tall guy!”

The president has also claimed to guests, without evidence, that his private dining room off the Oval Office was in “rough shape” and had a hole in the wall when he came into the West Wing and that President Barack Obama used it to watch sports, according to two White House officials and two other people who have heard him discuss the dining room. “He just sat in here and watched basketball all day,” Trump told a recent group, before saying he upgraded Obama’s smaller TV to a sprawling, flat-screen one, the four people said. 

An Obama White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Obama does not generally respond to Trump’s remarks, said that there was no hole in the wall and that Obama rarely worked in the room and did not watch basketball there.

Other presidents have been varied in their reception to guests, but most did not give many elaborate tours, presidential historians and aides said. 

Clinton and Franklin D. Roosevelt had many guests stay in the residence, Brinkley said, including visits by donors that drew controversy for Clinton. The former Obama aide said the 44th president often had friends, family of staff members and others for White House visits, contrary to what Trump tells people on tours. “No one had ever seen the Oval Office!” the current president claimed during a recent meeting with business executives, before bringing them into the room, according to two people present. 

A George W. Bush aide said he rarely took people into the residence, largely because his family was there. The Obama aide said he took only close friends into the residence — “not D.C. officials,” the aide said. Trump, by contrast, has summoned hundreds, if not thousands, of people upstairs, aides said.

The president’s desire to show off his abode fits a pattern. At Trump Tower in New York, he would show guests celebrity relics, such as basketball great Shaquille O’Neal’s shoes, signed magazine covers and photos with athletes.

When Trump plays golf at his own clubs, he often brags about the courses and how they were redesigned after he bought them, said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and others who have played with him.

“Is this the best turkey you’ve ever had?” he asked guests under the gilded ceilings of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last Thanksgiving, according to a person who heard the comments. “Did you see how great those greens look?” he asked a recent golf guest.

Aides said Trump is often gregarious and charming when showing off the residence, rather than displaying the churlish demeanor he sometimes shows in West Wing meetings. 

Marc Short, Trump’s former legislative affairs director, said he had been in the residence with dozens of members of Congress. “It was part of my legislative strategy,” Short said of the tours. “When you see him off camera in his own residence, basically being a host, he’s really good at it. It was a warm, gracious gesture.”

Short said Trump would surprise members of Congress with the question of a tour. “How can you say no to seeing the Lincoln Bedroom?” he said. 

The tours sometimes come intermixed with commentary on the day’s news, including asking guests which Democrats might beat him in 2020 as well as complaints about the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. “There was no collusion,” he recently told a group of members of Congress as he strolled through the residence, said a person on the tour. “It’s completely insane!”

Trump often has groused about flies in the White House and has told groups that his aides have mixed luck killing them. “Swarming everywhere,” he said at one point early in his presidency, according to a senior White House official, backing up an account in Sims’s book.

The president also has complained that the offices and the bathrooms in the West Wing do not meet his standards. Sims describes how Trump oversaw much of an extensive renovation.

“Cosmetic updates happen with the transition of each new administration, of course, but I doubt any president has ever been as hands-on as The Donald,” Sims writes.

Trump brags about the art in the residence, showing Monet paintings and portraits of Lincoln and his top generals. He has at times mentioned Ronald Lauder, his New York friend, as approving of the art, calling Lauder “one of the greatest art buyers in the world,” according to a person on one tour. A person familiar with the comments confirmed that Lauder had praised the paintings; a spokesman for Lauder declined to comment.

Numerous people who have gone on the tours describe a president boasting about the artifacts and art in his temporary home.

He often shows off the Louisiana Land Purchase, the Gettysburg Address and other historic documents, visitors say. He has commented on particular presidents — Andrew Jackson, whom he praises, and Ulysses S. Grant, whom he called “not so good,” according to a person who visited the residence in 2018.

Trump also has bragged during some visits about the pictures of him on the walls of the West Wing — including one with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and another of his inauguration — and how photos of him get framed and hung quickly by White House staff members when he asks.

He is obsessed with the chandeliers in the White House and called the main staircase “beautiful, just really luxurious,” a person who heard the comments said. He brags about how many television sets there are in the West Wing and his fancy system of toggling between channels made for him — he calls it a “Super TiVo,” according to White House aides and Sims’s book.

“I think it’s one of the greatest inventions,” Trump has said, according to Sims. The author said the comment was made “with a smirk, as if to acknowledge his reputation as a television addict.” 

The president rarely takes guests into his private bedrooms — the residence is split into quarters, according to current and former aides. Aides say first lady Melania Trump does not conduct as many tours of the residence.

As he has done often in a political career encompassing thousands of documented falsehoods, Trump has exaggerated at times in describing the tours. “They start to cry,” he has told others in explaining how people react when seeing the Oval Office, according to current and former White House aides.

Two senior White House officials said they had never seen any visitor cry in the Oval Office.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to former White House aide Cliff Sims’s new book as “Tale of Vipers.” The title is “Team of Vipers.”