Washington: US President Trump on Thursday night lambasted the author of a new damning book about his administration, calling it “phoney” and asserting he never gave its author reporting access to the White House.
“I authorised Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phoney book!” Trump wrote in a tweet. “I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!”
Trump’s legal team on Thursday threatened possible libel charges against the book’s author, Michael Wolff, its publisher and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Explosive comments attributed to Bannon are featured throughout the book, including a suggestion that a meeting during the campaign between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer was “treasonous.”
Wolff responded: “What was I doing there if he didn’t want me to be there? I absolutely spoke to the President. Whether he realised it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record.”
The book was originally scheduled to release next week, but Wolff and his publisher announced on Thursday its publication date would be moved up to Friday due to “unprecedented demand”.
Wolff has said his book was based on 200 interviews with White House and campaign staffers, including Bannon. Some conversations were on the record, while others were off the record or on “deep background”, allowing him to relay a “disembodied description of events provided by an unnamed witness to them”.
The author, a New York writer and media executive, has previously been accused by critics of “pushing the facts as far as they’ll go, and sometimes further than they can tolerate”, as The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump only had “one brief conversation” with Wolff “that had nothing to do, originally, with the book”. Bannon, she said, was the one signing off on “close to 95 per cent” of the author’s dialogue with White House staff. She estimated the author had “roughly just over a dozen interactions with officials at the White House”.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer also spoke of Wolff’s White House access in an interview with conservative commentator S.E. Cupp on CNN Thursday.
“I talked to him,” Spicer said. “He came in and said, ‘I’d like to write a book about the President’.”
Bannon set up appointments for the author to “come in and visit him over time”, Spicer said. But, Spicer added, “we don’t know how much access he got”.
In a piece published Thursday in the Hollywood Reporter, Wolff provided his own account of how he gained reporting access to the White House. After the election, Wolff said, he spoke to Trump about his desire to write a book, and proposed that he report from inside the White House as a “fly on the wall”.
“A book?” Trump responded, according to Wolff. The author claimed that Trump seemed to say “sure, knock yourself out”.
Wolff then managed to meander his way into the White House and into the proximity of its cast of characters, he described in the Hollywood Reporter:
“Since the new White House was often uncertain about what the President meant or did not mean in any given utterance, his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around — checking in each week at the Hay-Adams hotel, making appointments with various senior staffers who put my name in the ‘system’, and then wandering across the street to the White House and plunking myself down, day after day, on a West Wing couch.
“The West Wing is configured in such a way that the anteroom is quite a thoroughfare — everybody passes by. Assistants — young women in the Trump uniform of short skirts, high boots, long and loose hair — as well as, in situation-comedy proximity, all the new stars of the show: Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence, Gary Cohn, Michael Flynn
Wolff said he stands by his reporting and that the President’s threat of legal action is only boosting his sales.
He also stood by his account that many in the administration think Trump is incapable of meeting the demands of his role — claims which have prompted a furious backlash from the White House.
The author noted testimony that Trump keep repeating himself: whereas once he would tell the same three stories in 25 or 30 minutes, he said, now he does so in 10.
“I will quote Steve Bannon,” Wolff said. “‘He’s lost it’.”
Discussing Trump’s response to the book on NBC’s Today show on Friday, in his first interview since publication of excerpts from book by the Guardian triggered a political firestorm, Wolff asked: “Where do I send the box of chocolates?
“Not only is he helping me sell books but [also] he’s helping me prove the point of the book.
“I mean, this is extraordinary that a President of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book. This doesn’t happen, has not happened from other presidents, would not even happen from the CEO of a mid-sized company.”
The White House has repeatedly dismissed the book as “tabloid gossip”, “sad”, “pathetic” and full of “lies” and some media commentators have cast doubt on Wolff’s credibility.
Wolff said that, like any journalist, he has recordings and notes and is “in every way comfortable” with everything he reported in the book.
“My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point,” he said.
Pressed on whether he stands by everything in the book, Wolff replied: “Absolutely everything in the book.”
A recurring theme in Fire and Fury is the question of Trump’s fitness for office. Wolff suggested that even the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter, Ivanka Trump, have lost faith in his ability to do the job.
“Certainly Jared and Ivanka, in their current situation, which is a deep legal quagmire, are putting everything on the President,” he said. “‘Not us, it’s him’.”
Wolff added: “I will tell you the one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common. They all say, ‘He is like a child’, and what they mean by that is he has a need for immediate gratification. It’s all about him. He just has to be satisfied in the moment.
“They say he’s a moron, an idiot. Actually, there’s a competition to sort of get to the bottom line here of who is this man is. Let’s remember, this man does not read, does not listen, so he’s like a pinball just shooting off the sides.”
The White House has pushed back against the claims of Trump’s incapacity, press secretary Sarah Sanders saying on Thursday such claims were “ disgraceful and laughable “.
On Friday, a long-time friend and confidante of Trump rejected Wolff’s suggestion that the President is losing mental stability.
Chris Ruddy, chief executive of conservative Newsmax Media, told CNN: “He is not psychologically unfit, he has not lost it, as [Wolff] claimed. I saw the president every other day over a 10-year period during the holiday. I conversed with him during this time. I saw him interact with people. He was remembering things, he was on point, he was following up on discussions.”
Ruddy recalled that he took Michael Schmidt, a New York Times journalist, to meet and interview the President at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida over Christmas.
“I don’t believe Michael walked out and said, ‘This man is crazy, this man is unfit’. So this is just an absurd allegation by someone who’s talked to a lot of disgruntled people at the White House.”
Ruddy added: ‘This is just an absurdity and it’s really trash, actually.”