Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, a new book by Michael Wolff, paints a detailed, devastating portrait of the Trump campaign and presidency, according to excerpts published in New York magazine and the Guardian today (Jan. 3).
Wolff, a longtime media columnist and a biographer of Rupert Murdoch, describes a hapless president who never expected to win, is disastrously over his head, and is routinely insulted behind his back by the people who surround him—including his own daughter.
Washington journalists are already cautioning that Wolff’s reporting relied heavily on sources that are famous for lying, and the White House has put out a statement sharply critical of former senior advisor Stephen Bannon, whose caustic remarks appear throughout. Alongside the excerpt, New York says that Wolff took up “something like semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” after the inauguration—an idea Donald Trump reportedly encouraged—and conducted over 200 interviews with Trump staff and the president himself.
In a week in which the president has tweeted threats of nuclear war, the excerpts are proving an irresistible diversion in US political circles and beyond. Here’s a few of the notable highlights, none of which have been independently verified:
Murdoch calls Trump a “fucking idiot.” After a meeting with Silicon Valley executives early in his presidency, Trump called Murdoch and parroted the executives’ line—that they need open immigration to staff their companies, and said he was considering loosening these regulations further.
Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America’s doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, “We’ll figure it out.”
“What a fucking idiot,” said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.
Roger Ailes and Bannon joke about how little Trump understands. In a dinner in a Greenwich Village townhouse weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Ailes, the former Fox News CEO, and Bannon discuss future moves and cabinet choices:
“Does he get it?” asked Ailes suddenly, looking intently at Bannon. Did Trump get where history had put him?
Bannon took a sip of water. “He gets it,” he said, after hesitating for perhaps a beat too long. “Or he gets what he gets.”
Ailes mocks Trump’s servility to Vladimir Putin. After Bannon proposes that Ailes suggest to Trump that Murdoch is going senile, Ailes suggests that might not work:
“Trump would jump through hoops for Murdoch,” he reportedly said. “Like for Putin. Sucks up and shits down. I just worry about who’s jerking whose chain.”
Buddy Sam Nunberg describes his ignorance. Nunberg, a Republican policy analyst and former advisor, was sent to “explain the Constitution” to Trump when he was a candidate. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” Nunberg recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”
Ivanka Trump mocks her father’s hair to friends. The president’s daughter treated him with “a degree of detachment, even irony,” and often described the mechanics of his hairstyle to friends. Wolff apparently paraphrases:
…an absolutely clean pate—a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery—surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray.
A White House advisor compares him to a child. Katie Walsh, briefly the White House deputy chief of staff, seems to inform much of Wolff’s summation of the president’s policy limitations:
He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read….Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate…He was often confident, but just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities…It was, said Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”
Bannon accuses Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. of treason. Bannon is quoted as being particularly dismissive of the meeting the two held with Russian contacts in Trump Tower in June of 2016.
“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Wolff’s book is officially released Jan. 9.