In the winter of 2018, I drove out to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to finish writing my White House memoir. The town is built on a hill that descends to the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, ringed by mountains. A railroad bridge over the rivers, the brick buildings, and the church steeples give the place the feel of 19th-century America, a landscape that you might glimpse in a painting hung in the American wing of an art museum. This is also, of course, the place where the Civil War began; where the radical abolitionist John Brown seized the local arsenal in the hopes of sparking a mass uprising of enslaved people; and where Brown was detained by forces led by Colonel Robert E. Lee—he would later be hanged for his crimes under the watchful eyes of a young spectator named John Wilkes Booth. A quiet American place filled with American ghosts.
The town was cold and empty, and that’s precisely what I wanted. I stayed in a drafty bed-and-breakfast on the main road, an old house with antique furniture and a deep quiet other than the creaky stairs. I was the only guest, so for the bulk of my day and through the night I was alone in this house, reviewing pages that told the story of the past decade of my life. I spent my first night there giving careful attention to the chapter that dealt with the Benghazi attacks, aware that it would be combed over by right-wing trolls who’d used my every utterance about Benghazi over the years to advance the projection that I was a villainous liar spreading disinformation.