The transition effort of President-elect Donald Trump was rocked this week by new revelations from Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly about the ferocity of the then-presidential candidate’s attacks on her character.
The most astounding detail appeared to be a senior Trump aide’s almost callous indifference to the numerous death threats Kelly received after Trump and his adviser unleashed withering attacks on her through social media.
Trump and Kelly have a long and complex professional relationship. For years, well before he descended his namesake New York tower’s gilded staircase and announced his presidential ambitions, Trump had been wooing Kelly by sending notes, messages, and even copies of positive press about her.
But once he entered the race, she covered his campaign as a journalist is expected to do: hard-hitting interviews, probing reports, and a fair dose of skepticism. The pivotal moment came in the first Republican presidential debate, held in Cleveland in early August 2015.
Kelly began the debate by asking Trump a question that referenced his repeated negative comments about women, including directly quoting his comments describing women as “dogs, slobs, pigs, and disgusting animals.” Trump responded with a rambling answer that including saying his derogatory remarks about women were part of “having a good time” and attacking the former chat show host Rosie O’Donnell.
The debate proceeded apace, but Trump was unwilling to let go of what he considered an unfair first question. Trump relentlessly attacked Kelly for weeks, filleting her in interviews and bombarding her with vulgar and sometimes threatening tweets.
In a now infamous interview with CNN’s Don Lemon where he accused the host of “having blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” a statement that many interpreted as a reference to Kelly’s menstrual cycle. (The clip featured in one of Democratic presidential nominees Hillary Clinton’s most visceral attack ads.)
For Kelly, however, the most alarming issue with Trump’s attacks was the sheer volume of death threats and abuse she received. Worst of all, Michael Cohen – one of Trump’s top aides and the executive vice president and general counsel for The Trump Organization – egged on the attackers on social media.
The most jarring detail of the book is that Cohen was almost entirely indifferent to pleas from Kelly’s team to stop encouraging efforts to “gut” Kelly. In fact, Trump’s advisors only stopped encouraging social media abuse of Kelly after Bill Shine, then the executive vice president of Fox News, reached out to Cohen and warned him that – were Kelly to be attacked or murdered – the Trump campaign would likely be blamed.
The anecdotes from the Trump campaign are all part of Kelly’s new book, Settle for More, which she has been aggressively promoting for several weeks. The book’s discussion of alleged sexual harassment by former Fox News president Roger Ailes has intrigued many observers, but the description of her feud with Trump is by far the biggest selling point.
Now that her sparring partner is the President-elect, many have looked to Kelly for analysis of what he will be like in the White House – and what life will be like for people who tangle with the most powerful man in the free world.
In an interview with The New York Times to promote her book, Kelly expressed fear. “The relentless campaign that Trump unleashed on me and Fox News to try to get coverage the way he liked it was unprecedented and potentially very dangerous,” she told the paper, warning that similar behavior in the Oval Office “would be quite chilling for many reporters.”