Inside the making of the first-family tell-all Born Trump: 'There will be surprises for everyone involved'
“None of them had expected to be there that day.”
That phrase, written about the current first family on the morning of the inauguration, is one of the many in Born Trump that bears repeating and begs for an old-fashioned gossip sesh. It holds space along with revelations like the fact that Ivanka, second eldest of the Trump children, had plans to go back to work at her fashion line on the day after the 2016 election. Or that then-incoming First Lady Melania Trump had originally considered wearing the red, white, and blue Gucci outfit that Kellyanne Conway donned and was widely panned for.
The book is a first-of-its-kind investigation into the private and past lives of Donald Trump’s kids, focusing most closely on Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric. It delves into everything from the president’s marriages and affairs to his children’s troubles at their boarding schools. It’s written by Emily Jane Fox, a senior reporter for Vanity Fair. Fox began her career as a White House intern and had spent much of the pre-2016 campaign years closely following Ivanka for The Hive, VF‘s digital vertical focusing on business, politics, and the one percent.
Fox’s knowledge of Ivanka could be described — at least from the perspective of an outsider with zero access to the Trumps — as intimate. Over the course of her campaign coverage, she learned all about the inner workings of Ivanka Land and even spent an eerie night, two days before election day, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., during which she was one of approximately three people sleeping in the 200-plus room hotel.
Which is why, when she was approached by a literary agent about writing this very book, her initial answer was a hard pass. As she writes in the tome’s author notes, she was “sick of it all.” She was also keenly aware of the very unique difficulties in reporting on Trumpworld. Ivanka and her family members have been crafting messages practically since they were born, and employ a team of people to handle their image that goes well beyond the standard in which campaign staffers typically handle press.
“It’s difficult when you have people who are essentially crisis PR, who handle the most complicated celebrity issues like big divorces, working on a political campaign,” she told EW.com of her experience with reporting on Ivanka. “When you have a true master of spin surrounding the potential first family, it’s very difficult to get to the truth.”
But Fox eventually gave in to her innate curiosity: “I knew that there was more to that family beyond the image they wanted out there.”
That’s not to say that writing — and reporting — Born Trump wasn’t without its difficulties. After all, the book is a dishy tell-all about one of the most calculating families of our time. Fox interviewed over 150 people, some of them many times over, ranging from the Trump children’s very closest friends and associates to former students who took history class with Ivanka at Choate. She began by combing through old articles to see who was quoted discussing the children — the Trump family’s personal lives were New York City tabloid fodder decades ago — and managed to get her hands on old class lists.
“My opening line to everybody was, ‘I have no agenda here, I just want to get this right and get the fullest, best picture of who these people are,'” she explained. “Many of [the interview subjects] thought, ‘Hey, if you’re doing this anyway I would rather you get it right.’ Of course, when that wasn’t the case I shied away from using the stories they told me.”
The stories that did make the cut were, at their most benign, funny and entertaining, and at their most extreme, shocking. Anecdotes like Ivana leaving a baby Don Jr. at home (with nannies, of course) a mere two days after she gave birth, Don Sr. meeting his then-mistress Marla Maples for a rendezvous at the Trump family church, and countless scenarios that involved overly rowdy Trump children at boarding school and college. But during the research process, Fox was still unsure as to how all these disparate (albeit fascinating) anecdotes were going to come together — until a fated meeting with Michael Cohen. (Yes, the Michael Cohen).
“The moment when it all clicked was last August, the first time I had lunch with Michael Cohen,” said Fox. “I was asking him very general questions about the family dynamic — how the kids are like their father, how they’re like one another, what they’re like together. He said to me, ‘Look, Donald wanted to have five kids with the hope that one would turn out like him, but the reality is they’re each these mini Voltrons. They each have one quality of his.’ And that fit with everything I know about them.”
It’s hard to shock someone who has been covering the Trump family so closely, but Fox did come across a few unexpected pieces of personal information. Readers of Born Trump will notice a recurring theme throughout the childhoods of Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric: Absentee parenting (to put it bluntly). Even more than most wealthy New York families, they were raised by staff members, not relatives. The extent to which that occurred is something that still resonates with the author.
“I didn’t quite realize, and I’m trying to say this delicately, what a fractured and flawed set of parents they had,” said Fox. “I had a vague sense, but when you really look at the nitty-gritty details of how those kids grew up and the situations they were thrust into at a young age, that was upsetting. I’m pretty used to taking my own feelings out of a story, but no one would feel good hearing that.”
Fox also learned quite a lot about a topic that fascinates almost everyone who has ever read about Trumpland: The relationship between Ivanka and Jared.
“People always ask me, ‘Is it an arranged marriage?'” she laughs. “Their relationship is about business and love — for people like them, you can’t separate the two. They love and prioritize each other. They are two souls who were meant to be together unquestionably. Did it also suit their ambitions and professional lives to a T? One hundred percent.”
It’s easy to imagine, with the bloviating and machismo that permeates the current presidential news cycle, that a reporter digging into the occasionally sordid past of the first family may be met with…pushback, to say the least. And while Fox points out that at the outset of her research she encountered some resistance from former campaign staffers, that changed quickly, especially as more and more news started leaking out of the White House.
“I don’t think anyone [in the administration] was shocked that this book is happening,” she explained. “I will say that there will be surprises for everybody involved — it’s not like anyone read an advanced copy. But I’m determined to get everything right. And, look, when you’re getting stories from the people in the book and they’re all repeating the same stories, it makes me feel better.”
When Born Trump hits bookshelves on Tuesday, there’s a good chance that the president’s children will find themselves trying to suss out the source of the leaks, and possibly feeling twinges of regret or embarrassment over moments that they thought were in the ancient past. (We’ll give you a hint: The Trump brothers had quite the time in college.) But they’ll likely also be breathing a sigh of relief for other moments that either hit the cutting room floor or were never leaked to begin with. The editing process was full of tough choices, but Fox admits that one omission haunts her to this day.
“I had an ex-girlfriend of Jared’s share email correspondence with me,” she teased. “I would be mortified if someone did that to me, but I’ll give you one story: It was when he was dipping his toe into the media world and about to have a meeting about The Hollywood Reporter. He asked the girlfriend, ‘Is that, like, a thing? Is it a reputable publication?’ It was just endlessly entertaining.”
Rest assured, Born Trump is most definitely going to be a thing.