How a Tell-All Memoir Made It Into Print

When the news broke last month that a senior Trump administration official had written an anonymous tell-all memoir about serving in the White House, criticism was swift, and unusually bipartisan.

President Trump’s supporters dismissed the book as a likely fabrication. Some administration critics chastised the author for hiding behind anonymity, particularly in the middle of an impeachment inquiry when career government officials are testifying publicly about perceived wrongdoing, often at professional risk.

On Thursday night, the critiques grew louder after The Washington Post obtained an early copy of the book, titled “A Warning,” and reported on its contents. Among the revelations: a discussion among senior officials who considered resigning all at once in a “midnight self-massacre” as a warning to the public of the president’s erratic behavior.

But with the release in recent days of damning transcripts from the impeachment inquiry, the events described in “A Warning” could be seen as overly general and less revelatory than those daily disclosures from Washington.

In a New York Times review, Jennifer Szalai punctured the author’s claim that writing the book was “an extraordinary step” toward informing the public about presidential wrongdoing.

“In light of three years’ worth of resignations, tell-all books, reports about emoluments and sworn testimony about quid pro quos, this is a decidedly minimalist definition of ‘extraordinary.’ How can a book that has been denuded of anything too specific do anything more than pale against a formal whistle-blower complaint?” Ms. Szalai wrote.

The White House was quick to condemn the book, dismissing it as fiction in a statement to The Washington Post.

“The coward who wrote this book didn’t put their name on it because it is nothing but lies,” the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, wrote in an email to the Post. “Real authors reach out to their subjects to get things fact checked — but this person is in hiding, making that very basic part of being a real writer impossible.”

[Read our review of “A Warning.”]

“A Warning” is the latest and most unusual tell-all political memoir to emerge from President Trump’s administration, following books by former government officials like James B. Comey, Andrew G. McCabe of the F.B.I. and Cliff Sims, a Trump aide.

The anonymous author first caused a stir last year with the publication of an essay in The New York Times stating that many of Mr. Trump’s senior officials “are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” adding, “I would know. I am one of them.”

Plans to publish the book came together this year when the literary agents Keith Urbahn and Matt Latimer, co-founders of the Javelin agency, were summoned to meet with a senior member of the Trump administration.

The official claimed to be the anonymous author of a New York Times Op-Ed published last year that describes how administration officials were “working diligently from within” to frustrate many of Mr. Trump’s plans and ambitions.

Because the author’s identity was, and is, closely protected, Mr. Latimer and Mr. Urbahn had chosen not to shop around a book proposal and instead took the project directly to Sean Desmond of Twelve, a division of the Hachette Book Group. The author did not receive an advance for the book and has outlined plans to donate a substantial portion of the royalties to nonprofit groups supporting government accountability and press freedom, according to the publisher.

Mr. Desmond worked on the book in secret over the summer, and its publication was expedited once the impeachment inquiry got underway. The book is scheduled to go on sale Nov. 19, with a first print run of 500,000 copies.

Details, however, began to leak out shortly after its publication was announced in October.

Speculation about the author’s identity, motivation and current job title intensified as publication neared. (The author is listed on the cover as “Anonymous: A Senior Trump Administration Official.”)

This week, the Justice Department sent a letter to the publisher seeking identifying details, and asking for proof that the author had not signed a nondisclosure agreement with the administration and had not gained access to classified information.

“If the author is, in fact, a current or former ‘senior official’ in the Trump administration, publication of the book may violate that official’s legal obligations under one or more nondisclosure agreements,” Joseph H. Hunt, an assistant attorney general, wrote to Carol Ross of the Hachette Book Group.

In a response, Hachette said it intended to honor its commitment to protect the author’s identity.

Still, publishing a lengthy book offers many more possibilities for clues to the author’s name.

“The author is aware that their identity may be revealed as a result of this book,” Mr. Latimer said in an interview with The Times this month. “Every precaution has been taken to mitigate this possibility, but it’s still a real one and we all know that.”

In “A Warning,” the author offers a rationale for remaining anonymous. The writer claims to be protecting not just his or her identity, but to be preserving the impact of the book’s arguments by precluding the possibility of personal attacks by the president or his supporters.

“Removing my identity from the equation deprives him of an opportunity to create a distraction,” the author writes. “What will he do when there is no person to attack, only an idea?”