Perhaps inevitably, Michael Wolff’s eagerly-anticipated account of life inside Donald Trump’s administration has become an instant bestseller, with its depiction of a “dumb as shit” President bumbling his way from one scarcely believable gaffe to the next.
‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ is a godsend for the many detractors of Trump as we learn how he apparently never even wanted to be President, is mocked by his closest aides, and even why his hair is a shade of orange.
It also raises many questions - let’s start with the big one:
1) IS ANY OF IT ACTUALLY TRUE?
The book itself contains a disclaimer in its early pages that reads:
“Many of the accounts of what has happened in the White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are badly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book.”
The White House has rubbished the book saying it is riddled with errors, and campaign and administration officials have disputed events depicted.
And yet none of this matters - even if every anecdote contained within its pages remains unproven, Trump’s reaction to publication has already confirmed its main theme which Wolff summed up in an interview on NBC’s “Today” program on Friday.
When asked to clarify what he meant when he wrote that Trump’s entire circle questioned his fitness for office, he said:
100 percent of the people around him ... They all say he is like a child.
Trump’s reaction? This tweet: (UPDATE: Trump has since tweeted again, see point 5)
There’s also another element to the President’s reaction, namely his legal team’s assertion that Steve Bannon violated a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) by speaking with Wolff for the book.
2) WHAT ARE JARED AND IVANKA SO SCARED OF?
In short, according to the book, the law.
“The kids - Jared and Ivanka - exhibited an increasingly panicked sense that the FBI and DOJ were moving beyond Russian election interference and into family finances.”
This chimes with revelations in the book disclosed by the Guardian earlier this week, in which Bannon is said to have described the now-infamous 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump aides and a group of Russians as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
Bannon is also quoted as saying:
“This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.
“They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
3) WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH MELANIA?
“Donald Trump’s marriage was perplexing to almost everybody around him - or it was for those without private jets and many homes. He and Melania spent relatively little time together. They could go days at a time without contact, even when they were both in Trump Tower. Often she did not know where he was, or take notice of that fact. Her husband moved between residences as he would between rooms. Along with knowing little about his whereabouts, she knew little about his business, and took at best modest interest in it. An absentee father for his first four children, Trump was even more absent for his fifth, Barron, his son with Melania.”
Melania’s Communications Director, Stephanie Grisham, said on Friday: “The book is a work of fiction. It is a long-form tabloid that peddles false statements and total fabrications about Mrs Trump.”
4) IS TRUMP GOING TO ANNIHILATE THE ENTIRE WORLD WITH HIS ‘NUCLEAR BUTTON’?
Three separate passages in the book coalesce to apparently demonstrate one incredibly worrying trend.
Firstly, his apparent lack of knowledge of any of the issues that face a President day-to-day:
“Almost all the professionals who were now set to join him were coming face to face with the fact that it appeared he knew nothing. Everything with him was off the cuff. Whatever he knew he seemed to have learned an hour before - and that was mostly half-baked.”
Secondly, Trump’s impulsiveness is laid bare with a story of how he is supposed to have come to his controversial decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military:
“The next morning, seething, the President again publicly attacked his Attorney General and - for good measure and no good reason - tweeted his ban of transgender people in the military. (The President had been presented with four different opinions related to the military’s transgender policy. The presentation was meant to frame an ongoing discussion, but ten minutes after receiving the discussion points, and without further consultation, Trump tweeted his transgender ban.)”
Thirdly, how easily he was influenced by a simple picture presentation to launch missiles into Syria:
“Ivanka had long ago figured out how to make successful pitches to her father. You had to push his enthusiasm buttons. When [Ivanaka and Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell] showed the presentation to the president, he went through it several times. He seemed mesmerised.
“Watching the president’s response, Bannon saw Trumpism melting before his eyes. Trump—despite his visceral resistance to the establishment ass-covering and standard-issue foreign policy expertise that had pulled the country into hopeless wars—was putty. After seeing all the horrifying photos he immediately adopted a completely conventional point of view: it seemed inconceivable to him that we could not do something.”
Taken together it makes outbursts such as this all the more worrying.
5) IS TRUMP DETERIORATING MENTALLY?
As well as painting the President as “like a child”, Fire and Fury also contains anecdotes that suggest those around him are concerned about his mental capacity to hold office.
″[Trump’s staffers were] concerned that Trump’s rambling and his alarming repetitions (the same sentences delivered with the same expressions minutes apart) had significantly increased, and that his ability to stay focused, never great, had notably declined...”
Paranoia is also a running theme of the book.
“He had a long-time fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s—nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely pre-made.”
Again, even if the lines of the book are proven untrue, Trump’s fitness for office was already being questioned and these latest revelations will do nothing to prove otherwise.
UPDATE: Trump has defended his mental stability with a very unstable-sounding Twitter thread:
6) IS THE ‘LEAKER’ TRUMP HAS BEEN HUNTING FOR MONTHS... ACTUALLY TRUMP?
Trump has repeatedly railed against “leakers” in the White House and intelligence services but so far as is known, he is yet to identify them.
Two passages, one from the book and a second from a column Wolff wrote for The Hollywood Reporter this week, suggest there may be a simple reason for this.
“If he was not having his six-thirty dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls - the phone was his one true contact point with the world - to a small group of friends, among them most frequently Tom Barrack, who charted his rising and falling levels of agitation through the evening and then compared notes with one another.”
“A chronic naysayer, Trump himself stoked constant discord with his daily after-dinner phone calls to his billionaire friends about the disloyalty and incompetence around him. His billionaire friends then shared this with their billionaire friends, creating the endless leaks which the president so furiously railed against.”
7) DID SEAN SPICER BELIEVE ANYTHING HE SAID?
Former White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, became somewhat of a legend for his astoundingly inept and increasingly fanciful press conferences before resigning at the end of last summer.
″... within 24 hours of the inauguration, the President had invented a million or so people who did not exist. He sent his new press secretary, Sean Spicer - whose personal mantra would soon become ‘you can’t make this shit up’ - to argue to argue his case in a media moment that turned Spicer, quite a buttoned-down political professional, into a national joke, which he seemed never to recover from. To boot, the President blamed Spicer for not making the million phantom souls real.”
Of course this begs the question - does Trump’s current Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, believe what she’s saying?
For what it’s worth, Sanders has said of the book: “This is a guy who made up a lot of stories to try to sell books, and I think more and more people are starting to see that his facts just simply don’t add up.”