An explosive new book on President Donald J. Trump claims that Trump was in no way prepared to be president and that Rupert Murdoch thinks the guy is “a fucking idiot”. Okay, maybe it’s not that explosive.
But Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by controversial media columnist Michael Wolff, is dropping bombshell after bombshell, even if some of them seem a bit suspect (more on that in a minute).
The book, which is reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle, and players in and around the administration, including several with former chief of staff Steve Bannon.
In fact, it was the Bannon thing that kicked this whole thing off: The Guardian, which has seen a copy of the book, wrote up Bannon’s disparaging remarks about Donald Trump Jr. this morning, which prompted New York Magazine to move up the publication of an excerpt.
Here’s the 11 of the most shocking and/or highly entertaining revelations.
1. Trump was “befuddled” then “horrified” by his victory on election night. Melania cried.
Shortly after 8pm on Election Night, when the unexpected trend – Trump might actually win – seemed confirmed, Don Jr told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears – and not of joy. There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.
2. He found the White House “scary” and locked the Secret Service out of his room. Melania sleeps elsewhere.
Trump, in fact, found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary. He retreated to his own bedroom—the first time since the Kennedy White House that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms. In the first days, he ordered two television screens in addition to the one already there, and a lock on the door, precipitating a brief standoff with the Secret Service, who insisted they have access to the room. He reprimanded the housekeeping staff for picking up his shirt from the floor: “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” Then he imposed a set of new rules: Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime 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.) Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed.
3. He didn’t enjoy his own inauguration, and was upset at being snubbed by everyone except, for some reason, 3 Doors Down.
Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. He was angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House, and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears. Throughout the day, he wore what some around him had taken to calling his golf face: angry and pissed off, shoulders hunched, arms swinging, brow furled, lips pursed.
4. The White House had absolutely no idea what it was doing those first couple months.
To [Katie] Walsh, the proud political pro, the chaos, the rivalries, and the president’s own lack of focus were simply incomprehensible. In early March, not long before she left, she confronted [Jared] Kushner with a simple request. “Just give me the three things the president wants to focus on,” she demanded. “What are the three priorities of this White House?”
It was the most basic question imaginable — one that any qualified presidential candidate would have answered long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Six weeks into Trump’s presidency, Kushner was wholly without an answer.
“Yes,” he said to Walsh. “We should probably have that conversation.”
5. Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff, was warned about dealing with Trump.
“Here’s the deal,” a close Trump associate told Priebus. “In an hour meeting with him, you’re going to hear 54 minutes of stories, and they’re going to be the same stories over and over again. So you have to have one point to make, and you pepper it in whenever you can.”
6. And Michael Flynn, Trump’s record-breakingly brief National Security Advisor, probably should have headed advice. (He recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russia, and is widely considered to be cooperating with investigators looking into Russian election tampering.)
Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” Flynn assured them.
7. Trump idolises Rupert Murdoch.
On the Saturday after the election, Trump received a small group of well-wishers in his triplex apartment in Trump Tower. Even his close friends were still shocked and bewildered, and there was a dazed quality to the gathering. But Trump himself was mostly looking at the clock. Rupert Murdoch, who had promised to pay a call on the president-elect, was running late. When some of the guests made a move to leave, an increasingly agitated Trump assured them that Rupert was on his way. “He’s one of the greats, the last of the greats,” Trump said. “You have to stay to see him.” Not grasping that he was now the most powerful man in the world, Trump was still trying mightily to curry favour with a media mogul who had long disdained him as a charlatan and fool.
8. But Murdoch thinks Trump is “a fucking idiot”.
Later that afternoon, according to a source privy to details of the conversation, Trump called Rupert Murdoch, who asked him how the meeting [with a high-level delegation from Silicon Valley] had gone.
“Oh, great, just great,” said Trump. “These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favorable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.”
“Donald,” said Murdoch, “for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.”
“Take this H-1B visa issue. They really need these H-1B visas.”
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.
9. Ivanka Trump wants to be president some day.
Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump. Bannon, who had coined the term ‘Jarvanka’ that was now in ever greater use in the White House, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him.
10. She also makes fun of her dad’s hair.
“For Ivanka, it was all business — building the Trump brand, the presidential campaign, and now the White House. She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: 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 centre and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The colour, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men — the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair colour.”
11. And last but absolutely not least, Steve Bannon reckons Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign was stupid at best and “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” at worst.
According to The Guardian, Bannon told Wolff:
“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.”
“[The meeting should have taken place] in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people. [Any information could then be] dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication.
“You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.
“The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”
Here’s the thing about Wolff: he’s been widely criticised in the past as a untrustworthy reporter, who longtime press critic Jack Shafer described as someone who “exploits the human tendency to confuse frankness and cruelty with truth-telling.”
One incident that people have latched onto in particular is Wolff’s anecdote that Trump didn’t know who John Boehner was.
“Ailes had a suggestion [for chief of staff]: John Boehner, who had stepped down as Speaker of the House only a year earlier.
““Who’s that?” asked Trump.”
This can fairly quick be disproved by a quick Twitter search, which shows Trump tweeting about Boehner as far back as 2013.
Maybe Boehner will stop this one sided deal in the House…I hope so!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2013
Even if, in the context of the anecdote, Trump briefly forgot who Boehner was (he’s hardly known for having any kind of attention span or intellect), Wolff fails to put this into context.
Meanwhile, Fire and Fury has shot to the top of Amazon and the damn book isn’t even out yet. Wolff is laughing all the way to the back.