In case you missed it, Donald Trump has been president of the United States of America for a year now (take a moment to let that sink in) and the past 349 days have been wild to say the least. Between the rotating cast of characters, dramatic revelations and downright crazy statements from the man in charge, the American government has been more of a soap opera than an actual governing body (in fact, their only real legislative achievement is their highly controversial tax plan). This week, the whole mess got racketed up a notch with the release of excerpts from media writer Michael Wolff’s upcoming tell-all book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Let us tell you, this book is the trashy White House telenovella of your dreams.
The Big Story
The most prominent theme emerging here is that everyone who has ever worked with Donald J. Trump thinks he is completely incompetent. Phrases like “idiot,” “f—ing idiot” and “dumb as sh–” were thrown around by various high profile members of the administration and close associates. The big story today though is the no holds barred commentary given by former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Good ol’ Steve is known for his disheveled appearance, white supremacist leanings and influence over the president before he was fired from the White House in August (a perfect villain character, no?).
A key part of the Russia investigation centers around a meeting that Don Jr and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner took with a Russian lawyer during the campaign under the assumption she would be able to provide dirt on opponent Hillary Clinton. Of the meeting Bannon said the following:
- “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 sh–, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
- “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”
- “They’re going to crack Don Jr like an egg on national TV.”
- “[The Trump administration is] sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five [hurricane].”
Big takeaway: even Steve Bannon thinks the Russia investigation is going to go somewhere and that it was potentially “treasonous.” Hmmm.
Trump ain’t standing for that
If you think Donald Trump is just going to sit there and let one of his former besties drag him in front of the entire world, you are mistaken. The president issued a statement in response that was described by CNN’s Jake Tapper as “bizarre… a statement like no other presidential statement ever before in American history, lambasting his former campaign and White House senior strategist Steve Bannon in no uncertain terms.”
In it, Trump manages to belittle Bannon’s role in the campaign and WH, say he’s insane and still somehow brag about himself. Here’s the statement in full:
Trump totally torches Bannon: “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Full statement: pic.twitter.com/ElhChPiOx8
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) January 3, 2018
- “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
- “Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.”
- “He spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well.”
- “Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”
Here’s a major fact-check: we know that Steve Bannon was hugely important to Trump and the campaign because he arguably cultivated the base that won Trump the presidency. Respected journalist Joshua Green wrote an entire book on the Trump-Bannon symbiotic relationship.
Someone who was pretty happy to see the Bannon roast was house majority leader Mitch McConnell. He posted this creepy smiling gif on his official Twitter. Yes, apparently on purpose.
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) January 3, 2018
Trump and his lawyers have also issued cease and desist letters to Wolff and his publishers to stop “any further publication, release or dissemination” of the book excerpts and to Bannon for allegedly violating an employee agreement and defaming the president.
What else do we learn about the White House in this juicy book? According to Wolff, Ivanka and Bannon both want to be president, Trump really is in love with Vladimir Putin, none of the Trump admin actually expected or wanted to win and Trump insults his staff just as much as they seem to insult him. Read a list of all the highlights here and a long excerpt from a chapter of the book here. Fire and Fury will be released Jan. 9, but it’s already the #1 bestseller on Amazon.
How much of this do we trust?
A lot of this is sensational and hilarious, but the more ridiculous it is, the less we’re inclined to believe it. Can you really publish a book of lies about the president though? The author claims he did more than 200 interviews with staff and was given privileged access to meetings and the daily workings of the White House. He also says he has tape recordings of most of the interviews (in the words of James Comey: “Lordy, I hope there are tapes”). Vox has done an in-depth investigation into how much of the book seems factual and their basic conclusion is that this is a true retelling of the conversations Wolff was privy to. Whether he was lied to or interpreted things in a way that the original orators did not intend is up for debate. What we do know is that Bannon hasn’t denied any of the reporting. And we’re definitely going to be adding Fire and Fury to our shopping carts.